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Tiina K. Urv: 1998 Graduate Wins Major Award from Academy of Mental Retardation

Tiina K.Urv, a 1998 Ph.D. recipient in the Mental Retardation/Research Program at Teachers College, has won the prestigious "Outstanding New Researcher in Mental Retardation" award from Academy of Mental Retardation for her dissertation. In her study, Urv moves away from the more traditional approaches in studying the social adjustment individuals with developmental disabilities-whether through cognitive or behavioral aspects-to how individual differences in temperament and emotion regulation impact the social adjustment of children with Down and Fragile X Syndrome.

"Temperament," according to Urv, "is an individual's biologically based style of behavior." It has been linked to how a child functions in a specific environment and how he or she interacts with parents, teachers and peers. "Emotion regulation" is defined by researchers in the field as the process or strategies that are used to manage emotional arousal so that successful interpersonal functioning is possible.

Urv says that the relationship between emotion regulation and temperament is complicated and important.

"While temperament," she adds, "can be thought of as the foundation for emotional style and expression," an individual regulates emotional expression, which is shaped by temperament, to meet personal needs and societal expectations.

In looking at the literature for her dissertation, The Role of Temperament and Emotion Regulation in the Special Adjustment of Children with Fragile X Syndrome and Down Syndrome, Urv felt that researchers in the field were overlooking the "missing link" of individual differences or temperament. Such differences may well account for the problems individuals with developmental disabilities have with social adjustment.

She says, "Knowledge of individual differences in children with developmental disabilities may add insight to the abilities and needs of each child. Such insight would allow educators to address issues of social adjustment on an individual basis."

Fragile X Syndrome is the single most common inherited course of mental retardation. It affects at least 1 in 1,000 males and females of all races and ethnic groups. Individuals with Fragile X may have mental impairment, attention deficits, anxiety, unstable moods, and autistic-like behaviors. Fragile X is caused by a change within the FMR-1 gene located on the long arm of the X chromosome.

Down Syndrome is the most commonly known developmental disability. It is caused by a chromosomal abnormality at the 21st position. The main difference between the two is that Fragile X is inherited and Down Syndrome is a chromosomal mutation. Moreover, both affect different chromosomes, resulting in two separate disabilities.

Fifty-six male children with mental retardation from two age cohorts participated in the study. Each of the two cohorts, younger (age 3-7), and older (age 8-16), consisted of 28 children. Half of the children were diagnosed as having Down Syndrome, and half as having Fragile X Syndrome. The participants ranged in level of functioning from mild (41%) ranges of mental retardation, to moderate (44%) and severe (9%). The research was conducted in three phases, with parents and teachers requested to respond to a behavior style and coping inventories.

The results of the research, according to Urv, revealed that parents and teachers of children with Fragile-X and Down Syndrome think of temperament in "extremes" and not its "range."

Urv says, "I think range of temperament is one of the most important things to be aware of when you're working with children with difficult behavior. And there is no good or bad temperament."

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