August 31, 2017
Reading Comprehension and Down Syndrome Subject of SEC Faculty Travel Visit
By: Bryant Welbourne
SECU (Twitter: @TheSECU)
Reading opens a world of opportunities. Whether for business or entertainment, reading helps us be more independent and stimulates the mind. While we may not think of the cognitive processes that take place while we read, the brain puts in quite a bit of work to understand a series of words that are grouped together. But this is a difficult mental task for those who have Down syndrome.
As part of the SEC Faculty Travel Program, Dr. Susan Loveall-Hague, Assistant Professor of Communications Sciences and Disorders at the University of Mississippi, met several times with Dr. Fran Conners, Professor and Chair of the Department of Psychology at the University of Alabama, to collaborate on a National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant proposal that will examine the strengths and weaknesses of reading skills possessed by individuals with Down syndrome.
“Many people inaccurately assume that people with Down syndrome can’t read, and that’s not true,” said Dr. Loveall-Hague. “Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of research indicating the best methods to teach them how to read. My visits with Dr. Conners allowed us to outline the proposal on reading comprehension and select the grant-funding organization.”
The proposal, which will be submitted in October, will look at the cognitive and linguistic profiles of those with Down syndrome and compare their reading comprehension patterns to those who don’t have Down syndrome. The goal is to understand the problematic areas of those who have Down syndrome so they can eventually improve their comprehension skills through intervention.
“Researchers have found that those who have Down syndrome are very capable of identifying words, but they struggle at putting them together and understanding the context of sentences,” said Dr. Conners. “We want to study their syntax because that feeds into comprehension.”
Aside from the research, the SEC visits were also a reunion for Dr. Loveall-Hague and Dr. Conners. Dr. Loveall-Hague, who considers herself a new investigator, was a Ph.D. student of Dr. Conners’ at Alabama before joining the Ole Miss faculty in 2015.
“This was an opportunity for someone who is more established to collaborate with someone who is getting started,” said Dr. Conners. “The process of writing a grant can be very tough, and I’m glad I could help Susan because she was one of my favorite students.”
Dr. Loveall-Hague’s and Dr. Conners’ visits were supported by the SEC Faculty Travel Program, which is administered by SECU, the academic initiative of the Southeastern Conference. The SEC supports and promotes the academic endeavors of the students and faculty at its 14 member institutions.
“I can’t stress enough how helpful it was to work with Fran in person on this grant application,” said Dr. Loveall-Hague. “As a researcher, it’s great to know that the SEC is behind us and supports what we want to do.”