A comparison of the language, turn-taking and gaze behavior of Down syndrome and nonretarded child-mother dyads

Judith Patricia Brand, Fordham University


Two contrasting perspectives characterize the current view of retarded mental development--the developmental and the difference positions. The developmental position suggests a basic similarity to normal development, with slower progression through stages and a lower ultimate level of development. The difference position suggests that not only the rate and asymptote will differ but that there will be qualitative differences as well. Within the context of these two different theoretical perspectives, a small sample, exploratory study was designed to compare the interactions of Down Syndrome and nonretarded children and their mothers. Previous research with young Down Syndrome children suggested that differences in turn-taking, vocal, and gaze behavior existed, even when the children were matched at the same developmental level. In order to contribute to the developmental literature, six moderately retarded Down Syndrome and six nonretarded children were matched at the 24 to 36 month developmental level, the age group next in the developmental sequence, not previously studied. Each child was videotaped during a 15-minute free play period. Data were transcribed from the tapes, in 1-second intervals, to permit examination of turn-taking, vocal, and gaze behavior. Data analysis showed that although Down Syndrome children spoke with the same frequency as the nonretarded children, the duration and length of their vocalizations were significantly shorter. Down Syndrome children engaged in as many turn-taking episodes but they evidenced significantly more turn-taking failures than the non-retarded children. A comparison of gaze behaviors did not yield significant results, although Down Syndrome children showed greater variability in gaze behavior, almost twice that of the nonretarded children. Mothers of Down Syndrome children differed from mothers of nonretarded children in responding more quickly after their children finished vocalizing. Down Syndrome children and their mothers spent more time chorusing each other than the comparison group. The results of this study lend support to the difference position and suggest that moderately retarded Down Syndrome children may need specific teaching in conversational skills in conjunction with language development. Because of the limited sample size, replication is necessary before these results have broad application.

Subject Area

Educational psychology|Developmental psychology

Recommended Citation

Brand, Judith Patricia, "A comparison of the language, turn-taking and gaze behavior of Down syndrome and nonretarded child-mother dyads" (1989). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI9007172.