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J Appl Res Intellect Disabil. 2010 Nov;23(6):597-605. Epub 2010 Apr 14.

Mothers and Fathers at Play with their Children with Down Syndrome: Influence on Child Exploratory and Symbolic Activity.

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Department of Cognitive Science and Education, University of Trento, Trento, Italy.



Through play children exercise their emerging mental abilities, and for their part, when in collaborative play, caregivers often adjust their behaviours to assist their children's progress. In this study, we focused on comparisons between play of Down Syndrome (DS) children with their two parents as well as on comparisons between the two parents' play behaviours.


Altogether 40 parent-child dyads participated: 20 children with DS (M age = 36.14 months) with their mothers and separately with their fathers. We coded participants' play behaviours during child solitary and mother-child and father-child collaborative sessions.


Although children increased exploratory play from solitary to collaborative sessions with both parents, symbolic play increased only during joint play with fathers. Fathers displayed less symbolic and more exploratory activity compared to mothers. Mothers and fathers alike were attuned to their children, although fathers showed a higher degree of attunement.


This study shows that maternal and paternal contributions to DS child play skills are positive but different. During collaborative play children received specific and nonoverlapping scaffolding from their two parents, and fathers' contributions were unique.

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