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The characteristic manner in which individuals engage their world is typically referred to as temperament. This concept describes the approach to the world as well as the nature and affective tone of interactions that occur. In recent years, interest in temperament has been spurred by reports of the importance of understanding individual characteristics of infants and children and subsequent caretaking needs. For example, Bell's (1968) model of reciprocal influences in mother–infant interactions has underscored the importance of the infant's effect upon the mother's behavior. Additional reports by Thomas and Chess (1977, 1980) have indicated that problems in the goodness of fit between a child's characteristics and environmental demands may lead to maladaptive behavior later in life. These findings are in accord with the transactional model set forth by Sameroff and Chandler (1975), who viewed development as the product of continuous interaction between individuals and their caretaking environment. Within this theoretical framework, developmental “casualties” are poor or nonoptimal outcomes that result when the characteristics of the individual are not congruent with the expectations of the environment.
Lastly, recent research has also pointed toward the theoretical and pragmatic importance of exploring the concept of temperament. Kagan (1982; cited by Sroufe, 1985) has suggested that difficult temperament profiles in infancy may adversely affect parent–child interactions, while Cutrona and Troutman (1986) have proposed that temperament may affect parents' perceptions of self-efficacy, inducing feelings of helplessness. Additionally, researchers have also found that infant temperament is modestly related to later behavior disorders (Thomas & Chess, 1980; for a review, see Bates, 1987).
In recent years, interest in the development of perceptual, memory, and attentional processes in infants and children has burgeoned. A great deal of this work has been spurred by technological advances and by the development of new experimental paradigms that have made it possible to explore infants' abilities and limitations in these areas (Cicchetti & Wagner, in press). Such research has underscored the importance of examining these basic capacities in elucidating how individuals perceive and understand their world. As a result, our knowledge of the processes and mechanisms that underlie cognitive development during these periods has increased dramatically.
In this chapter, we focus upon perception, attention, and memory in infants and children with Down syndrome. Consequently, we review studies that have utilized nontraditional assessments of these abilities. We have adopted a developmental framework in our discussion of these abilities because we are interested in the ontogenesis and interactions of psychological processes over developmental time. Historically, most of the previous reviews and research on Down syndrome has been characterized by an a-developmental approach. In general, Down syndrome samples and normal or other mentally retarded groups of similar mental or chronological age have been compared at a single point in time. True developmental studies have been infrequently conducted because it is difficult to collect data from sufficient numbers of children with Down syndrome at several different ages and to examine them longitudinally. Additionally, another difficulty in longitudinal studies with this population resides in the controls: Over time normal controls become inappropriate owing to their accelerated rate of development.
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