Down Syndrome Research Forum 2015

This year’s Forum meeting was hosted by University College London in the UK. The program for this meeting included a large variety of talks focusing on different areas of learning and development in children with Down syndrome. The keynote speaker, Professor Annette Karmiloff-Smith from the Birkbeck Centre for Brain & Cognitive Development at the University of London, focused on the importance of individual differences in understanding the Down syndrome genotype and phenotype.  In particular, the individual differences in genetics, brains, cognition and the environment were highlighted. Karmiloff-Smith and her team usually analyse the individual data from their larger group data base. Therefore, and because group data also may be positive for policy making, she did not reject finding trends but she argued the importance of investigating these individual differences and comparing them to other aspects of the individual child’s  profile. From a pedagogical perspective it has to be mentioned that three internal factors were mentioned in the key note but only one external factor. However, there are a range of additional possible external factors that were not mentioned in the talk but which may also possibly apply individual differences such as e.g. the teaching and intervention program used as well as different structural factors which may include type of support as well as the frequency, the duration and the quality of support. Interestingly, Karmiloff-Smith finalized her talk asking the question of whether fewer developmental trajectories may result in fewer individual differences rather than larger individual differences as suggested by earlier research. This keynote was really a very interesting talk which inspired the audience and which resulted in comments regarding individual differences in many other talks during the Forum meeting as well. I, therefore want to thank Karmiloff-Smith for her very inspiring talk and I also want to thank her for her active participation during the discussions throughout these two days.

I was also especially inspired by  a talk on shared book reading (Cain, Jeffery, & Burgoyne, in progress), and a talk on consolidation of new vocabulary learning in children with Down syndrome (Smith, Nash, Hayiou-Thomas, & Snowling, in progress). The knowledge revealed from these studies seems to be very relevant according to planning of the DSL+ intervention. So I really look forward to read their final publications.

From the DSL+-project we gave three talks during this year’s Forum meeting:
1)  Exploring the prevalence of reading skills in 6-8 year old children with Down syndrome: What characterizes those with early reading skills relative to those without? (Næss & Smith, in progress).
2) The social profile of 6 year old children with Down syndrome (Næss, Nygaard, Ostad, Dolva, & Lyster, in progress).
3) Questionnaires to inform app design for children with Down syndrome (Hokstad & Smith, in progress).

Actually, Silje did her first international talk at any conference today. She did a really great job and I was really proud of her. We do not usually have students that have the capacity to give a talk at an international “conference” like she did today. I look forward to follow her research career in the future.

Dinner - Tuesday evening
During the Forum meeting networking has also been important. We have had the opportunity to meet and talk to a lot of new people in the field; we have exchanged email addresses and other types of information for further conversation. Also, we have had some planned meetings during these days e.g. to discuss the systematic training part of our intervention with Kelly Burgoyne. To sum up, I think we have had some very interesting and fruitful days here in London, and I am already looking forward to the next Forum meeting that will be held in York, 5th -6th  September 2016.

Thanks a lot to Sue Buckley (Down syndrome Education International) and Professor Charles Hulme (University College London) for hosting the Down Syndrome Research Forum 2015!

-Written by Kari-Anne B. Næss-

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