Language intervention for children with Down syndrome

Part of LuCiD’s work involves the development and evaluation of practical interventions that aim to support children’s language skills. Children with Down syndrome have well-established language difficulties, and evidence based language interventions that are adapted to the learning profile of this group are badly needed. A research group led by Professor Kari-Anne Bottegaard Næss in the Department for Special Needs Education at the University of Oslo, Norway, are making important advances in this field. I was delighted to spend a week in August with Professor Næss and her team learning about a language intervention programme they have developed for children with Down syndrome called Down Syndrome Language Plus (DSL+).

DSL+ is a digital app-based programme which supports oral language development through shared reading, vocabulary training, and storytelling activities. The teaching programme is delivered via an Ipad App, using interactive digital picture books created specifically for the programme. Teachers and teaching assistants are trained to deliver DSL+ to children in schools, and are provided with all the materials and resources needed to work on the programme for 20-30 minutes a day over 30 weeks. Importantly, DSL+ supports inclusive practice through a combination of 1:1 working, small group work and whole class activities.

Professor Næss and her team have recently evaluated DSL+ in a Randomised Controlled Trial (RCT) involving 104 6-year old children with Down syndrome in 88 schools in Norway. They are currently working hard on analyzing the data from this study and results will be available soon. What we do know already is that schools welcomed the intervention and were able to implement it successfully. Initial analyses suggests children have made large gains in language skills following intervention.

During the visit we wrote a grant application for a project which will adapt and evaluate DSL+ with children with Down syndrome and schools in the UK. We looked at the existing programme materials (written in Norwegian) and discussed what needs to be changed and what can stay the same. For example, some of the picture books are more suitable to a Norwegian context than they are to the UK (e.g., we have fewer reindeers!). We also designed a RCT to be conducted in the UK to evaluate how well the programme works here.

We also started working on a project together to explore narrative skills in children with Down syndrome. This paper uses data collected as part of the DSL+ study and will examine children’s linguistic skills and story knowledge captured when retelling a story.

Thank you to LuCiD for supporting this visit to the Department for Special Needs Education at the University of Oslo to develop these exciting opportunities to work with this team. This work will help further our understanding of the language skills of children with Down syndrome, including the best way to support language development for this group. Importantly this work also has potential application to many other children who have language learning difficulties.


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