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Neuropsychologia. 2003;41(8):1037-46.

Spatial representation and attention in toddlers with Williams syndrome and Down syndrome.

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Department of Psychology, The Harry Pitt Building, University of Reading, Earley Gate, Reading RG6 6AL, UK.


The nature of the spatial representations that underlie simple visually guided actions early in life was investigated in toddlers with Williams syndrome (WS), Down syndrome (DS), and healthy chronological age- and mental age-matched controls, through the use of a "double-step" saccade paradigm. The experiment tested the hypothesis that, compared to typically developing infants and toddlers, and toddlers with DS, those with WS display a deficit in using spatial representations to guide actions. Levels of sustained attention were also measured within these groups, to establish whether differences in levels of engagement influenced performance on the double-step saccade task. The results showed that toddlers with WS were unable to combine extra-retinal information with retinal information to the same extent as the other groups, and displayed evidence of other deficits in saccade planning, suggesting a greater reliance on sub-cortical mechanisms than the other populations. Results also indicated that their exploration of the visual environment is less developed. The sustained attention task revealed shorter and fewer periods of sustained attention in toddlers with DS, but not those with WS, suggesting that WS performance on the double-step saccade task is not explained by poorer engagement. The findings are also discussed in relation to a possible attention disengagement deficit in WS toddlers. Our study highlights the importance of studying genetic disorders early in development.

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