The power of mom

The power of mom

In 1991 scientists identified a gene on a “fragile” site of the X chromosome as responsible for the most common inheritable form of intellectual disability, Fragile X syndrome (FXS), which often co-exists with autism.

In 2004, 13 scientists from three top National Institutes of Health developmental disabilities research institutes launched a major scientific campaign to learn how children with FXS and their families adapt to the challenges of the condition.

KU scientists Steven Warren, vice provost for research and graduate studies, and Assistant Professor Nancy Brady led KU’s part in the five-year Family Adaptation to Fragile X Syndrome.

Their previous work broke ground in showing how crucial parenting style is to children’s language development.

Now their study of mothers and their children with FXS has found that a “responsive” parenting style has a strong and positive impact on a child’s communication development according to several measures of 55 children the team followed from two to five years of age.

Responsive parents initiate communication with their children frequently and respond positively to reinforce their children’s non-verbal and verbal communication attempts. For example, if a child points at the moon, a mother might say, “Yes, that’s the moon!”

Child development researchers and families are excited by these findings, said Brady, because the study confirms that parent-child interactions can change the course of development even in children with a genetically based, complex disability.