About Down's Syndrome : Parental intention to support the use of computerized cognitive training for children with genetically defined neurodevelopmental disorders

Parental intention to support the use of computerized cognitive training for children (age 0 to 18 years)  with genetically defined neurodevelopmental disorders


Dr Nigel Robb is undertaking this post-doctoral research study in collaboration with a research fellow at the University College Cork, Ireland.  His research interests include video games, including applied (‘serious’) games; human-centred design, particularly the design of software for people with intellectual disabilities; and philosophical theories of learning and concept acquisition.

Outline of the research

Children with genetically defined neurodevelopmental disorders (NDDs) such as Down syndrome, Prader-Will syndrome, and Fragile X syndrome may show a range of cognitive impairments, including impairments in executive functioning.[1] Executive functions are related to general intelligence, academic achievement, literacy, and mathematical skills, while executive function deficits are related to a variety of clinically and socially important behaviours.[2] Recent research on the effects of commercial brain training programmes and video games suggests that executive functioning can be improved through training, both in typical adults and in children with NDDs; such computerised cognitive training (CCT) therefore represents a potentially viable and affordable intervention for children with NDDs.[3] For CCT to be effective, it is important that an appropriate training regimen is followed; one widely used CCT programme assigns a coach to trainees, to provide motivation.[4] Since children are likely to engage with this training at home, the intentions of their parents to support them in this training are therefore important. However, no research has systematically investigated the attitudes of parents of children with NDDs to CCT. The aim of this study is to investigate the intentions of parents of children with genetically defined neurodevelopmental disorders to support their children in the use of CCT

Summary of findings

A recently-published research study shows that the parents of children with neurodevelopmental disabilities have generally positive attitudes to using computerized cognitive training with their children. The research, published in Frontiers in Public Health, was led by Dr Nigel Robb from the University of Tokyo, Japan, with an international team including researchers from Ireland and China.

Children with neurodevelopmental disabilities such as Down syndrome, Prader-Willi syndrome, and Fragile X syndrome often show impairments in executive functions. Executive functions are high-level cognitive process which act as an “executive control center”, coordinating and modulating our thought and behavior. Executive functions are important in all aspects of our lives, including social skills, success at school and work, and interpersonal relationships.

There are now many computerized training programs which claim to improve executive function. These usually take the form of simple games which encourage players to practice executive function skills in a fun way. There is some evidence that these kinds of games might be helpful for children with neurodevelopmental disabilities, but to be effective, children would need to use the training regularly. This means that their parents would need to support them and encourage them to use the programs.

Dr Robb wanted to find out how parents of the children who could benefit from such cognitive training feel about this. Working with several organizations around the world, his team recruited parents of children with neurodevelopmental disabilities to complete a short questionnaire.

The results show that parents have very positive attitudes about computerized cognitive training and would be quite likely to support their children using such programs. However, the research also showed that parents had low levels of knowledge about cognitive training. This highlights the fact that most cognitive training programs are marketed for use by typical adults, and not by children with neurodevelopmental disabilities, who could stand to benefit greatly from using them.

In future research, Dr Robb hopes to investigate further what parents’ positive attitudes are based on. This is important because it is essential that parents are provided with unbiased information regarding cognitive training so that they can make informed decisions about their children’s education and development.

Dr Robb would like to express sincere thanks to the organizations that supported the research, and, most importantly, to the parents who took part, and their children.

The research was supported by funding from the charity RESPECT and the People Programme (Marie Curie Actions) of the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013) under REA grant agreement no. PCOFUND-GA-2013-608728.

If you have any questions about this research study, please email Dr Nigel Robb  nigel.robb@ucd.ie

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