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Leonard Abbeduto, Ph.D.
M.I.N.D. Institute Distinguished Lecturer Series: May 9, 2007

Biographical Info
Leonard Abbeduto, Ph.D., is professor of educational psychology, communicative disorders, and psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is also associate director for Behavioral Sciences and director of the University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities at the University’s Waisman Center. Dr. Abbeduto is well known for his research on the development of language and communication in children with intellectual disabilities and, more recently, for his research on the family impacts of disabilities. He has published over 80 articles, chapters, and reviews, as well as seven books. His research has been supported by the NIH almost continuously since 1984. Dr. Abbeduto is a fellow of the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities and has received a distinguished teaching award from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is the president-elect of the Academy on Mental Retardation and the co-director of the NIH-funded Gatlinburg Conference on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities. He is currently conducting longitudinal investigations of language problems in adolescent boys and girls with fragile X syndrome and of psychological well-being in mothers of adolescents with fragile X syndrome. Dr. Abbeduto earned his Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Illinois at Chicago in 1982. He completed a postdoctoral fellowship at Vanderbilt University before joining the faculty at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1987.

Presentation Abstracts
Language Problems in Fragile X Syndrome: From Behavioral Phenotypes to Family Context (4 pm)
Fragile X syndrome is the leading inherited cause of intellectual disabilities and is often associated with serious language problems. My colleagues and I are interested in developing a more nuanced characterization of language problems in fragile X syndrome by examining (1) the extent of impairment in the various components of language and in prerequisite skills (such as hearing), (2) the relationships between language and nonlinguistic dimensions of the behavioral phenotype, and (3) possible environmental contributions. We have found a profile of relative strengths and weaknesses in the various components of language that distinguishes fragile X syndrome from Down syndrome and, perhaps, other disorders. We also find that variation in language skill among affected individuals is related to cognitive ability, autism status, and other nonlinguistic dimensions of the phenotype. And finally, we have preliminary results suggesting that mothers of children with fragile X syndrome display relatively low levels of psychological well-being, which may have implications for their children’s language learning. In this presentation, I will share our findings to date and present a model of the organismic and environmental factors affecting language learning in fragile X syndrome.

Understanding the Communication Challenges of Youth with Fragile X Syndrome (6 pm)
Fragile X syndrome is the leading inherited cause of intellectual disabilities and is often associated with serious problems in communication. In this presentation, I will summarize findings from several completed and ongoing studies designed to understand the extent and nature of the communication challenges facing older children, adolescents, and young adults – both males and females – with fragile X syndrome. I will focus on the foundations for communication, barriers to effective communication, and the process of communication itself. I will also discuss some of the factors that are associated with more or less severe communication challenges in individuals with fragile X syndrome, and make recommendations for assessing communication challenges in affected individuals. And finally, I will briefly describe strategies for facilitating communication development that can be implemented by parents and professionals.

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