The Down syndrome LanguagePlus (DSL+) project aimed to develop a vocabulary intervention programme released as a mobile app for first graders with Down syndrome to increase their vocabulary breadth and depth and achieve a transfer effect to other language skills.
The project was led by Professor Kari-Anne Bottegård Næss at the Department of Special Needs Education, University of Oslo, and was based on more than 10 years of research on development and learning in children with Down syndrome. It built on knowledge gained from empirical studies and systematic reviews on language and memory, phonological awareness, motivation, the effects of language interventions and the implementation quality of earlier intervention research on children with Down syndrome.
The project was developed as a multidisciplinary collaboration between national and international researchers in psychology, education, special needs education and arts and crafts, an award-winning children's author, EngageLab and the University of Oslo's Section for Research and Dissemination Support as well as its Centre for Information Technology. Parents, teachers, students and Statped also participated.
DSL+ is a 30-week intervention with sessions five days a week: three individual, one group and one with the full class. The sessions consist mainly of digital learning activities based on a dual approach: picture book dialogues and systematic word training.
During a specific two-year period, all Norwegian first graders with Down syndrome were invited to participate in a randomised controlled trial to investigate the effect of DSL+. Their language skills were assessed before, during and after the intervention period. Additionally, dialogue activity from individual intervention sessions was tracked online. Listening comprehension amongst mainstream peers participating in the group and classroom sessions were also measured at two time point.
While the data collection from the trial is complete, test data scoring and audio data transcription is ongoing. Many teachers have passed on positive experiences from their participation in DSL+, and the final results will be presented in a open seminar in May 2020.
This study has already had a significant impact. Several related national and international research studies are underway, team members have been awarded academic promotion, and the development of the DSL+ app resulted in generic technical solutions which are being used and further developed in more than 20 new mobile apps for research in a range of disciplines.
The DSL+ is the largest language intervention study of children with Down syndrome worldwide. Preliminary results showed a large effect on expressive vocabulary and positive reception by teachers.
The teachers were expected to increase their theoretical knowledge by participating in the online seminar and reading teacher guidance, as well as their practical skills by implementing the intervention.
Low attrition after the intervention phase among the waiting control group and the teacher's wish for more support and material after the study ended may indicate high social validity.
Indicators of communication success include new research collaborators, additional grants and invitations to give guest lectures and talks in academia and in the field of practice.
Indicators of exploitation success include international translation and trials, projects in new contexts and with new user groups, academic promotions and the development of generic technical solutions used in new projects.
Children with developmental disabilities are at risk of language impairment and efficacy research is urgently needed to establish best language intervention practice for these children. The present project focuses longitudinal language development and language intervention for children with Down syndrome, the most frequent group with developmental disabilities. Data from an existing database from the first longitudinal study of language development in a national age cohort of children with Down syndrome will be analysed in relation to correlations between different variables and longitudinal predictors of the variability in development. The forthcoming results and new knowledge already developed based on the existing database will form the basis for an RCT that will evaluate the effectiveness of a new vocabulary intervention program designed for children with Down syndrome. A national age cohort of children with Down syndrome at six years of age will be recruited and they will be randomly allocated to either the experimental group (two 20-week blocks of daily intervention) or the waiting control group (will obtain their usual education while they are waiting). A follow up will be conducted one year after the end of the study and will enable comparison wi th longitudinal data from the existing database. Structural Equation Modelling (SEM) with latent variables will be the main analytical approach for analysis of quantitative data.
The knowledge revealed from this project will be important because languag e functioning in the early school years has a pervasive influence on later development and lifelong implications for success in education and working life. Language functioning also influences the extent to which people are able to take part as active members of society. Thus, the project will have a direct societal impact and will introduce teachers and special education teachers to a new evidence based approach.