ECIDD 2018 - Keynote Speakers

Emily Farran (University College London)
Navigation and the spatial domain in neurodevelopmental disorders

Our understanding of the development of spatial cognition has largely centred on specific questions. For example, in typical development, there has been extensive investigation regarding the existence of a geometric module, whilst in neurodevelopmental disorder research, the functions of the ventral and dorsal visual streams, and their potential dissociations, have received a lot of attention. Current research highlights that the notion of intact vs. spared spatial functions is simplistic. I am interested in how a task is completed. This analytical question can be approached with reference to a number of methodological techniques. For example: by taking into account the developmental influence of early impairments on later function; by using cross-syndrome comparison; and by considering interactions across genes, behaviour, environment and the brain. I will present research, predominantly in relation to the ability to navigate large scale space, in which we have taken these methodological considerations into account.
The ability to navigate successfully in large scale space is crucial to everyday living. For people with learning difficulties, the ability to learn their way around environments has a significant impact on daily life and independence. First, I will discuss findings from a series of cross-syndrome comparisons of the navigation abilities of individuals with Down Syndrome and individuals with Williams Syndrome, using desktop virtual reality. Both groups demonstrate impaired large-scale spatial cognition, yet comparison between the groups reveals syndrome-specific differences in the strategies employed, and the mechanisms which drive spatial performance for each group. Second, I will explore the relationship between motor ability and large-scale spatial cognition in three groups who have impaired motor performance: Cerebral Palsy, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and Williams Syndrome. Findings so far suggest that, whilst the achievement of motor milestones is related to spatial cognition in typical development, impaired motor abilities do not necessarily lead to impaired spatial cognition in neurodevelopmental disordered groups. This has implications for our understanding of the use of alternative developmental pathways with respect to the development of spatial cognition.

Deborah Fidler(Colorado State University)
Executive function and goal-directed behavior in children with Down syndrome

Executive function (EF) refers to the cognitive skills necessary for goal-directed behavior. An increasing body of research has demonstrated that EF is essential for many important adaptive outcomes throughout the lifespan.  For individuals with Down syndrome, EF has been linked to academic outcomes, functional performance, and employment in adulthood.  In this presentation, we will examine the development of EF during early and middle childhood with a focus on identifying patterns of relative strength and challenge. We will also discuss potential targets for intervention during the infant and toddler years in DS in order to promote positive developmental cascades and adaptive outcomes.

Herbert Roeyers (Ghent University)
Early detection of autism spectrum disorder: approaches, pitfalls and benefits

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a serious lifelong neurodevelopmental disorder that impairs a person’s ability to communicate and interact with others. It also includes restricted and repetitive interests, activities and behaviours. ASD symptoms frequently present in the first two years of life, but often children are not diagnosed until four years or later. Over the past two decades there has been a growing interest in early detection of ASD, not only from the scientific world but also from professional associations and public health systems all across Europe. Early detection may result in a faster access to a wider range of resources and services, such as early intervention programmes. We will give an overview of the different screening procedures and discuss their advantages and disadvantages. It becomes increasingly clear that a multi-stage approach in early detection is most promising because it takes into account the inherent problem pertaining to age and pattern of symptom onset and intensity, as they may vary from case to case.
Prospective longitudinal studies with infants at high risk of developing ASD may be very informative to further improve the quality of early detection programmes. In the second part of the presentation we will describe recent progress in ‘high-risk infants’ research in ASD, with special reference to the Ghent baby study, which includes a cohort of siblings (younger brothers and sisters of children with an ASD diagnosis) and a cohort of preterm-born infants. Findings that will be highlighted include the prevalence of ASD in preterm-born children, variations in early trajectories of ASD and the association between contextual factors and later development. Implications for early detection and diagnosis as well as for early intervention will be formulated.