Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Predicting the Intellectual Limitations of People with DS

Someone recently told me they were surprised to read my post on Down syndrome and Mental Retardation, having been told -- and come to believe -- that all people with Down syndrome have some degree of mental retardation (MR). She let me know that she forwarded my post to her contacts within a few Down syndrome organizations asking for their response.

Well, here's my response:

If they answer at all, they will probably give some technical/definitional information regarding MR being characterized by an IQ below 70 accompanied by developmental disabilities. However, they are now finding that early intervention and alternative teaching methodologies are making a difference in the measurable IQ levels of people with Down syndrome as well as those with Autism. This is partly because the IQ tests are somewhat fallible, in that parts of the test measure experiential concepts that have to be taught (read: environmental factors and not intellectual capacity). Additionally, it is difficult to define intellectual limitations versus learning disabilities (LD). That is, in some instances, when measuring intellectual capacity, we can't rightfully say whether a person can't learn it or whether we have not found the right way to teach it to them. EI, which addresses teaching methodology and experiential/environmental exposure, has made great strides in educating children that used to be considered ineducable or mentally retarded, resulting in further blurring of the line between MR and LD.

I could go on regarding the unique impact of the extra chromosomal material on the individual with Down syndrome and how it is drastically affected by hormones and environment resulting in an unpredictable outcome. My sister, who is a microbiologist, had a colleague who left NYU, where she worked, to go to a prominent university in Texas where he is doing in depth research on this very subject. Their findings thus far is that the outcome is truly unknown, flexible, changeable, depending upon and according to where and how much extra 21st-chromosomal material the individual has, as well as his/her hormonal responses to and HOW HE IS TREATED IN LIFE (again, read: environmental factors such as exposure, repetition, teaching methodology, nutrition, medical attention, familial treatment, societal treatment, etc.).

This is not to say there are no limitations.... But, No One Can Know or Predict the Limitations of Another! None of us should go through life expecting our children to be mentally retarded... though we should accept that there may be intellectual concepts that they may ultimately fail to grasp... just as surely as there will be skills they excel in. This is true for children with DS as well as those w/o DS. For instance, I stink at Math! That is, I seem to have failed to grasp at least some of the abstract concepts despite many years of mathematical instruction undertaken to teach me these concepts. No, I'm not mentally retarded... Actually, I'm relatively intelligent if I do say so myself. It's just that the mathematical teaching methodology used in "those days" didn't work for me. So tell me, if Brian and Michael ultimately stink at Math as well, if they fail to grasp these same concepts that have alluded me, is it b/c they have Down syndrome? Is it because they are mentally retarded? Or, is it because their instructors didn't find the right way to teach it to them (or me)? Or, did they just inherit a poor mathematical aptitude from me???

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