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Keywords:

  • behavioural measurement methods;
  • cognitive behaviour;
  • fragile X;
  • intellectual disability

Abstract

Background  Clinical trials of medications to alleviate the cognitive and behavioural symptoms of individuals with fragile X syndrome (FXS) are now underway. However, there are few reliable, valid and/or sensitive outcome measures available that can be directly administered to individuals with FXS. The majority of assessments employed in clinical trials may be suboptimal for individuals with intellectual disability (ID) because they require face-to-face interaction with an examiner, taxing administration periods, and do not provide reinforcement and/or feedback during the test. We therefore examined the psychometric properties of a new computerised ‘learning platform’ approach to outcome measurement in FXS.

Method  A brief computerised test, incorporated into the Discrete Trial Trainer©– a commercially available software program designed for children with ID – was administered to 13 girls with FXS, 12 boys with FXS and 15 matched ID controls aged 10 to 23 years (mental age = 4 to 12 years). The software delivered automated contingent access to reinforcement, feedback, token delivery and prompting procedures (if necessary) on each trial to facilitate responding. The primary outcome measure was the participant's learning rate, derived from the participant's cumulative record of correct responses.

Results  All participants were able to complete the test and floor effects appeared to be minimal. Learning rates averaged approximately five correct responses per minute, ranging from one to eight correct responses per minute in each group. Test–retest reliability of the learning rates was 0.77 for girls with FXS, 0.90 for boys with FXS and 0.90 for matched ID controls. Concurrent validity with raw scores obtained on the Arithmetic subtest of the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children-III was 0.35 for girls with FXS, 0.80 for boys with FXS and 0.56 for matched ID controls. The learning rates were also highly sensitive to change, with effect sizes of 1.21, 0.89 and 1.47 in each group respectively following 15 to 20, 15-min sessions of intensive discrete trial training conducted over 1.5 days.

Conclusions  These results suggest that a learning platform approach to outcome measurement could provide investigators with a reliable, valid and highly sensitive measure to evaluate treatment efficacy, not only for individuals with FXS but also for individuals with other ID.