The University Record, February 22, 1999

Kinesiology to open Down syndrome research center

By Amy Reyes
News and Information Services

The Division of Kinesiology is preparing to position itself as host of a research center designed to enhance the quality of life of infants, children and adults with Down syndrome.

Down syndrome is the most common form of mental retardation and affects one in 800 births, says Dale Ulrich, an associate professor of kinesiology who is leading an endowment campaign to fund the creation of the “Center on Motor Behavior and Down Syndrome.”

The research center will provide a means by which researchers in cognitive, language, social and movement skill development can collaborate on basic and clinical research. It will bring together experts from throughout the world whose work can impact the lives of people with Down syndrome.

“Parents have many questions. They want to know how to prevent some of the consistent problems that children with Down syndrome experience. It would be nice to have an organized program for children with Down syndrome so that we can answer these questions under one clinical roof,” says Ulrich, who specializes in adapted physical activity, motor development, physical activity patterns and skill development in developmental disabilities.

Although there are a number of medical research centers in this country and abroad that specialize in treating the medical problems that afflict some people with Down syndrome, Ulrich says there isn’t a research center designed to bring together scientists for the purpose of exploring non-medical problems associated with Down syndrome. Establishing the center is especially important today because medical advances have extended the life expectancy of someone born with Down syndrome from 20 to 60.

"To date, there has not been a meaningful impact of research in improving the developmental skills of this population in the motor, language, cognitive and social skills domains. Very few scientists have elected to study children with Down syndrome. This has resulted in minimal progress in improving the day-to-day functioning of children with Down syndrome,’’ Ulrich says.

In addition to sharing resources, the center will serve as a source for parents who will be taught the skills necessary to teach their children developmental skills at home on a daily basis. Most children with Down syndrome do not have access to the daily developmental therapy sessions needed to make meaningful progress in a reasonable amount of time, Ulrich says. Parents usually enlist the help of professionals to give the lessons, which are seldom administered daily. The frequency and intensity of the lessons are vital for children with Down syndrome.

As children with Down syndrome age, they typically become less physically active, and thus socially inactive, primarily because of an inability to keep up with their non-disabled peers. Ulrich’s research has demonstrated that intensive intervention by parents can make significant improvements in motor skill development.

“The center will provide an opportunity for the Division of Kinesiology to become a leader in creating new scientific knowledge needed to improve the quality of life in children with Down syndrome,” says Beverly D. Ulrich, the newly appointed director of the Division. “It will also be a source of interdisciplinary and collaborative learning for our students. Our goal is now to secure the endowments for the center.”

While at Indiana, Beverly and Dale Ulrich collaborated on studies that examined the movement patterns of children with Down syndrome. They’ve also collaborated and continue to collaborate with Assistant Professor of Kinesiology Rosa Angulo-Kinzler. She is conducting research in the area of motor development of infants with Down syndrome.