Learning Through Objects in Infants and Toddlers with Down Syndrome

Vanderbilt University

Principal Investigators: 

  • Dr. Amy Needham, PhD
  • Dr. Maninderjit (Mandy) Kaur, PhD

Observational clinical study

Focused attention skills have been shown to be predictive of cognitive abilities in early childhood. For Down syndrome infants who have decreased motor ability, motor training to increase attention in the long-term may be particularly helpful. These Vanderbilt University researchers will study this potential connection by utilizing Velcro to allow 3-month-old children to reach and grasp objects without much effort. The Velcro will maintain the grasp for some time, and allow for prolonged exploration. Active novel exploration will be studied when these children reach 15 months.

Previous research in typically developing infants showed a strong correlation between active reaching in infants at 3 months of age and active novel object exploration at 15 months of age. If the association is seen in babies with Down syndrome, this technique could be used as an early intervention strategy.The cause of decreased motor activity seen at birth among those with Down syndrome is low muscle tone, known as hypotonia,. Compared to their peers, these babies are delayed in reaching developmental milestones, including grasping, rolling, lifting the head, and eventually crawling, standing, and walking. Hypotonia also impacts fine-motor control, such as use of the fingers.

Motor function in babies/infants and lifelong cognitive development are deeply linked. Researchers have connected these milestones with cognitive function. For example, the ability to roll over from the back to the tummy and to pick up the head is essential for taking in details of the environment. These details are important for proper development of portions of the brain that relay spatial information, and also language development. This is known as a “developmental cascade.”Early intervention of physical therapy can improve these areas of development. Interventional therapies that target this period of development to increase motor function and strengthen muscles in babies with Down syndrome have the potential of setting the important foundation for more robust cognitive function throughout life.





Target Life-stage

Immediately implementable
Observational clinical research study
From birth to adolescence