DSE is pleased to be partnering with researchers at the University of York and the University of Manchester in a pilot evaluation of an app designed to improve foundation speech skills with infants with Down syndrome. The BabblePlay app responds to babies' vocalisations with fun colourful moving shapes, encouraging them to vocalise more, and possibly leading to improved speech and language outcomes.

Most children with Down syndrome say their first words later than typically developing children, learn to say new words more slowly and often struggle to talk clearly.[1] Speech development starts in the first few weeks of life and babble is the first practice for learning how to produce speech sounds. Babies with Down syndrome babble slightly later than other children, practice the same sounds, but may not babble as much each day. If we can identify practical interventions that can be implemented early in life, then we may be able to help infants with Down syndrome babble more and this may lead to marked improvements in the development of later speech skills.

One small study[2] offers a preliminary indication that parent-led interventions can improve early vocalisations in young children with Down syndrome. Now, Down Syndrome Education International is partnering with Professor Tamar Keren-Portnoy at the Department of Language and Linguistic Science and the University of York, Dr Helena Daffern from Electronic Engineering at the University of York, Professor Mona Kanaan from Health Sciences at the University of York, and Dr Kelly Burgoyne at The University of Manchester, to evaluate an app designed to improve foundation speech skills. The BabblePlay app[3] responds to babies' vocalisations with fun colourful moving shapes, encouraging them to vocalise more, and possibly leading to improved speech and language outcomes. We now plan to explore whether it might be helpful for infants with Down syndrome.

Professor Tamar Keren-Portnoy commented "Our research has shown that babble practice changes the way babies listen to speech and equips them for starting to use words. This grant will allow us to develop our research in more applied directions. It makes me very happy to think that what started out as interesting intellectual questions about the influence of babble on language learning may prove helpful for actual babies and their families and may be useful to early years clinicians."

Professor Sue Buckley commented, "We are delighted to be working with Professor Tamar Keren-Portnoy and her team on this study. If the BabblePlay app can increase the amount of babble that our babies practice, we may be helping them to consolidate their motor patterns needed for the speech sounds and their ability to hear them in words. If the babies with Down syndrome do learn to babble more using the app, I hope we will be able to find more funds follow them and see if they are able to say words earlier. We will also use positive results to find funds for a larger study."

  1. Burgoyne, K., Buckley, S. & Baxter, R. (2021) Speech production accuracy in children with Down syndrome: relationships with hearing, language and reading ability and change in speech production accuracy over time. Journal of Intellectual Disability Research, 65, 1021-1032. https://doi.org/10.1111/jir.12890
  2. Fiani, T., Izquierdo, S.M. & Jones, E. (2021) Effects of mother's imitation on speech sounds in infants with Down syndrome. Research in Developmental Disabilities 119. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ridd.2021.104118
  3. Keren-Portnoy, T., Daffern, H., DePaolis, R. A., Cox, C.M., Brown, K., Oxley, F.A.R. & Kanaan, M. (2021) ‘Did I just do that?' : Six month-olds learn the contingency between their vocalisations and a visual reward in 5 minutes. Infancy https://doi.org/10.1111/infa.12433