Behavior and adaptive functioning in adolescents with Down syndrome: specifying targets for intervention

J Ment Health Res Intellect Disabil. 2014;7(4):287-305. doi: 10.1080/19315864.2014.920941. Epub 2014 Oct 3.


Background: Research suggests that adolescents with Down syndrome experience increased behavior problems as compared to age matched peers; however, few studies have examined how these problems relate to adaptive functioning. The primary aim of this study was to characterize behavior in a sample of adolescents with Down syndrome using two widely-used caregiver reports: the Behavioral Assessment System for Children, 2nd Edition (BASC-2) and Child Behavioral Checklist (CBCL). The clinical utility of the BASC-2 as a measure of behavior and adaptive functioning in adolescents with Down syndrome was also examined.

Methods: Fifty-two adolescents with Down syndrome between the ages of 12 and 18 (24 males) completed the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test, 4th Edition (PPVT-IV) as an estimate of cognitive ability. Caregivers completed the BASC-2 and the CBCL for each participant.

Results: A significant proportion of the sample was reported to demonstrate behavior problems, particularly related to attention and social participation. The profile of adaptive function was variable, with caregivers most frequently rating impairment in skills related to activities of daily living and functional communication. Caregiver ratings did not differ by gender and were not related to age or estimated cognitive ability. Caregiver ratings of attention problems on the BASC-2 accounted for a significant proportion of variance in Activities of Daily Living (Adj R2 = 0.30), Leadership (Adj R2 = 0.30) Functional Communication (Adj R2 = 0.28, Adaptability (Adj R2 = 0.29), and Social Skills (Adj R2 = 0.17). Higher frequencies of symptoms related to social withdrawal added incremental predictive validity for Functional Communication, Leadership, and Social Skills. Convergent validity between the CBCL and BASC-2 was poor when compared with expectations based on the normative sample.

Conclusion: Our results confirm and extend previous findings by describing relationships between specific behavior problems and targeted areas of adaptive function. Findings are novel in that they provide information about the clinical utility of the BASC-2 as a measure of behavior and adaptive skills in adolescents with Down syndrome. The improved specification of behavior and adaptive functioning will facilitate the design of targeted intervention, thus improving functional outcomes and overall quality of life for individuals with Down syndrome and their families.

Keywords: Down syndrome; Intellectual disability; adaptive behavior; assessment; behavior problems.