Language and executive functioning in young adults with Down syndrome

J Intellect Disabil Res. 2022 Jan;66(1-2):151-161. doi: 10.1111/jir.12868. Epub 2021 Jul 21.


Background: This study examined the association between executive functioning and language in young adults with Down syndrome (DS).

Method: Nineteen young adults with DS (aged 19-24 years) completed standardised measures of overall cognition, vocabulary, verbal fluency and executive function skills.

Results: Friedman's analysis of variance (χ2 (3) = 28.15, P < .001) and post hoc comparisons indicated that, on average, participants had a significantly lower overall non-verbal than verbal cognitive age equivalent and lower expressive than receptive vocabulary skills. Using Spearman correlations, performance on a verbal measure of cognition inhibition was significantly negatively related to receptive vocabulary (ρ = -.529, adjusted P = .036) and verbal fluency (ρ = -.608, adjusted P = .022). Attention was significantly positively correlated with receptive (ρ = .698, adjusted-p = .005) and expressive (ρ = .542, adjusted P = .027) vocabulary. Verbal working memory was significantly positively associated with receptive vocabulary (ρ = .585, adjusted P = .022) and verbal fluency (ρ = .737, adjusted P = .003). Finally, visuospatial working memory was significantly associated with receptive vocabulary (ρ = .562, adjusted P = .027).

Conclusions: Verbal and non-verbal measures of executive functioning skills had important associations with language ability in young adults with DS. Future translational research is needed to investigate causal pathways underlying these relationships. Research should explore if interventions aimed at increasing executive functioning skills (e.g. attention, inhibition and working memory) have the potential to lead to increases in language for young adults with DS.

Keywords: Down syndrome, executive functioning, language, memory, vocabulary.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Down Syndrome*
  • Executive Function*
  • Humans
  • Language
  • Memory, Short-Term
  • Vocabulary
  • Young Adult