Colorado State University Launches Study to Better Understand Skills of People with Down Syndrome

A new Colorado State University study aims to provide insight into the thinking skills of children with Down syndrome so professionals can improve intervention and education for this population. These aspects of thinking and problem solving in children with Down syndrome or similar disabilities have received very little attention from researchers in the past, and understanding them may better help these children be more successful in school and real-world settings.

Study leaders are currently looking for school-aged children with Down syndrome and children with other developmental disabilities and their families to participate in the study.

“It is critical to determine whether children with disabilities such as Down syndrome develop these skills differently,” said Deborah Fidler, a researcher in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies at CSU. Fidler is one of two CSU researchers leading the study. “If we can identify how these thinking skills vary among individuals with different disabilities, we can develop new ideas about how to improve outcomes for children with Down syndrome and other disabilities in the classroom and in the broader community.”

Fidler and Lisa Daunhauer, who is co-leading the project, are heading up the study, which includes partners from the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center.
The project, funded by the Institute for Education Sciences at the U.S. Department of Education, will examine how working memory, inhibition, planning and other thinking skills used to take action toward goals may differ in people with Down syndrome. Studies show that these skills – called executive function skills – may be more important for school readiness than IQ or beginning reading and math skills, and that these skills are associated with independence in everyday life activities.

Examples of the skills that will be studied include:
– working memory, which helps to simultaneously store and manipulate information for complex tasks such as an ordered task list;
– inhibition, which involves self control over ones behavior and overriding automatic responses;
– shifting, which refers to switching from one set of mental rules to another to complete an assignment or goal; and
– planning, which involves prioritizing and generating steps needed to reach a goal.

Families who want to enroll in the study can visit locations in Fort Collins or Denver. The study entails two one-hour visits.

Down syndrome is the most common genetic cause of intellectual disability and affects one in every 700 newborns, including about 6,000 individuals in Colorado.

“Despite the common conception that Down syndrome is on the decline, a recent study showed that prevalence has actually increased by 30 percent over the past several decades,” Daunhauer said. “The good news is that the quality of life that people with Down syndrome experience has improved dramatically within that time as well. We are fortunate to live in a time when children with disabilities such as Down syndrome live in and contribute to their communities and are given opportunities to excel in academic and daily living situations.”

Contact the Developmental Disabilities Research Lab at 970-491-1969 or by emailing the lab coordinator at

The Department of Human Development and Family Studies is in the College of Applied Human Sciences. The college this year is celebrating the 25th anniversary of its formation.