How to increase vocabulary in children with Down syndrome

Professor Kari-Anne B. Næss, Dept of Special Educational Needs, University of Oslo, Norway.



Vocabulary is the key to communication and relates to learning and academic development, social communication, and emotional well-being. Although children with Down syndrome are at risk of low vocabulary, limited knowledge exists about their vocabulary development over time and what constitutes effective vocabulary intervention. This keynote presentation presents more than 10 years of research related to vocabulary skills in children with Down syndrome, including aspects of longitudinal development, predictors, vocabulary-related skills, and vocabulary interventions. A specific emphasis will be put on the Down syndrome LanguagePlus intervention (DSL+), which is a digital vocabulary intervention program developed for children with Down syndrome.

The aim of the program is to increase the vocabulary depth and breadth of children with Down syndrome and support language development. The program is based on the language profile of children with Down syndrome and takes account of findings from reviews of previous studies of language interventions, motivation, and implementation quality in intervention research as well as results from an empirical study of the preferences of children with Down syndrome concerning the use of digital technology.

The program is delivered in school and combines individual training and classroom activities. The results from a national study of 104 children with Down syndrome that were randomly assigned to either the DSL+ intervention or “business as usual” will be presented. The children were tested with both direct- and transfer-effect measures before, midway through, and after the intervention. In addition, log data from individual program teaching sessions was collected, including audio files from expressive tasks.

Findings from both quantitative and qualitative data will be presented, including child-related and contextual explanations for variability in outcomes. The presentation will conclude with considerations for advancing the fields of practice and research related to vocabulary learning in children with Down syndrome. Time for discussion will also be provided.