College of Liberal Arts

University of Mississippi

UM Hosts Down Syndrome Workshop

Daylong event for parents and professionals focuses on care, advocacy

UM student Scarlett McCombs helps Asher Childers with his coloring skills during a Down syndrome workshop at the university.

University of Mississippi student Scarlett McCombs helps Asher Childers with his coloring skills during a Down syndrome workshop at the university. Submitted photo

SEPTEMBER 20, 2019 BY EDWIN B. SMITH

Parents and legal guardians of individuals with Down syndrome learned more about caring for their children during a recent workshop at the University of Mississippi.

“Conversations on Down Syndrome with Professionals” was a daylong event designed to help caregivers discover their children’s strengths and difficulties, and how to advocate and navigate through the educational and medical systems. The workshop marked the completion of the second year of Linguistics Illusions, a three-year Marie Sklodowska-Curie-funded project hosted jointly by UM and the University of Cambridge.

“This workshop gave parents the opportunity to ask questions of professionals who specialize on these issues,” said Christiana Christodoulou, Marie Sklodowska-Curie Global Fellow at Cambridge and research assistant professor in the UM Department of Modern Languages. “They were also able to exchange experiences with each other, learn more of information and resources available to them, and to understand that they are not alone.”

Christodoulou was among six guest speakers for the event. Other presenters were Anthony Bryant, special education instructor in the Lee County Schools; Dr. Angie Childers, a Memphis physician; Martine Hobson, executive director of the Down Syndrome Association of Memphis and the Mid-South; her daughter, Laurie Hobson, an advocate for individuals with Down syndrome; and Carey Bernini Dowling, instructional associate professor of psychology and director of undergraduate studies at UM.

“One of the innovations of this workshop was that it provided child care for those who attended it with their children,” Christodoulou said. “Graduate students from the Department of Modern Languages and the School of Education volunteered to lead activities coordinated with some of the information presented during the lectures.”

Running and organizing the child care aspect of this workshop was a challenge, said Scarlett McCombs, a master’s student in elementary education.

“Organizing activities appropriate for children with Down syndrome, varying in age and in stages of development, was an invaluable experience for me,” said McCombs, an Oxford native. “Plus, we had a lot of fun together.”

As part of the Linguistics Illusions Project, Christodoulou and her research assistants have collected and analyzed more than 1,200 hours of data from some 270 children and adolescents across northern Mississippi and Memphis. They have worked with children with typical language development, children and adults with Down syndrome, and children with other language difficulties.

“This project’s research team is one of the largest, if not the largest, research teams working on a single project not only in the Department of Modern Languages, but also in the College of Liberal Arts,” she said. “More than 25 paid research assistants have worked with the interdisciplinary project.

“Students were recruited from modern languages, communication sciences and disorders, psychology, education, international studies and the Honors College.”

The workshop began an important dialogue between parents of children with Down syndrome and professionals from the area who work in fields that can provide medical information and advocacy for the children, said Donald Dyer, associate dean for faculty and academic affairs in the College of Liberal Arts and distinguished professor of modern languages.

“The workshop was a great success, and was an important event for the local and university communities on both a personal and professional level,” Dyer said.

The main objective of the project is to document its participants’ articulation, phonological and grammatical development. Additional goals include the creation of a trajectory of how language develops across all three populations and the documentation of the very first spectrum of language abilities for individuals with Down syndrome, with an ultimate goal of using this information for diagnostic and rehabilitation purposes.

For more information about the Linguistics Illusions Project, contact Christiana Christodoulou at cchris26@olemiss.edu.