Speech and language interventions

DSI See and Learn initiative: Learning from a large scale project

Nicola Hart, Head of Member Services, Down syndrome Ireland

Contact: nicola@downsyndrome.ie


In 2019, DSI raised funds to provide See and Learn programs to members. We provided training, materials, phone consults and site visits to parents and early years educators to support understanding and encourage the use of the programs. We had two main goals: first, to meet the needs of children with Down syndrome early education settings; second, to provide case studies and measurable outcomes which could be used to lobby for state provision of these programs in early childhood education.

Both delivery and outcomes were impacted by the pandemic, but despite this, we saw some encouraging results and have discussed state provision at a preliminary meeting with the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth

We would like to discuss what we have learned from this experience, along with some case studies and results. We would also like to discuss our plans for progressing this initiative in the future.

Shared book reading interventions to promote language development in children with Down Syndrome: where are we and where should we go?

Laura Diprossimo; & Kate Cain

Contacts: l.diprossimo@lancaster.ac.uk; k.cain@lancaster.ac.uk


Accumulating evidence (Dowdall et al., 2020; Farrant & Zubrick, 2012) suggests that shared book reading interventions have a positive influence on child language development and early literacy skills in the general population, with initial indication of effectiveness in children with autism spectrum disorder (Boyle et al., 2019). Meta-analytic reviews (Takacs et al., 2014, 2015) have also indicated that certain multimedia features of digital books, such as animated pictures, may be particularly supportive to scaffold story comprehension and word learning in disadvantaged children. Nevertheless, the evidence in support of shared reading interventions, with or without digital supports, to promote early language skills in children with Down Syndrome is still limited. Challenges in running sufficiently powered large-scale studies may explain the current state of the art. Given the pervasive language learning difficulties (Næss et al., 2015) of children with Down Syndrome, there is need to adapt shared book reading interventions to the unique profile of this group and test their effectiveness. The present talk aims to outline key issues to design the future of shared reading interventions in Down Syndrome. First, based on previous findings in typical and atypical populations we provide an overview on how several language skills, including vocabulary and syntax, can be promoted via shared reading interventions. Second, we discuss the cognitive skills that need to be considered in the design of digital supports, in order to capitalize on areas of relative strength (e.g., visual skills) and support areas of weakness (e.g., phonological short-term memory) in children with Down Syndrome. Finally, we welcome input from parents and professionals to inform the design of an effective intervention, taking into account parents' attitude towards shared book reading interventions and their potential implementation via digital supports, and current practice and recommendations in clinical and educational settings.

An effectiveness study of a parent-child interaction therapy with children with Down syndrome

Ciara O'Toole; Sarah Cronin; & Pauline Frizelle

Contact: c.otoole@ucc.ie


Background: Parent-child interaction therapies are commonly used in early intervention for young children with Down syndrome, however evidence of their effectiveness is limited. This study aimed to explore the effectiveness of one such intervention designed for a group of infants with Down syndrome by addressing the following research questions:

  1. Does the intervention encourage the development of language and communication in infants with Down syndrome?
  2. Does the intervention change the way parents interact and communicate with their infants with Down syndrome?

Method: A single-subject multiple-baseline design was employed. Seven children and their mothers took part in the study. All children were aged between 10-17 months at the time of entry. Standardized assessments, parental report and observational measures were used to capture change for each parent and child. Data was collected at regular time points over the 10 months of the intervention, with follow up data collected 3 months later.

Results: Preliminary results indicate improvements in receptive vocabulary, use of key word signs, gesture use and ability to respond to joint attention in most children. Children who attend all three terms of the intervention seemed to benefit more from the program. Most parents were also successful in improving their ability to follow their child's lead, join in and play and incorporate a time delay into parent-child interactions. Many parents also used more developmentally appropriate language and increased their use of labelling and repetition of key words post-intervention. The follow up data will be further examined to determine whether these changes were maintained.

Conclusions: The program was tailored for infants with Down syndrome and showed some success in promoting language and communicative intentions while also upskilling the parents in specific communication and interaction strategies. Future research and key factors for success in this intervention will be discussed.