Protocol for a Randomised Controlled Feasibility Trial of Parent-Delivered Early Language Intervention for Children with Down syndrome (PACT-DS)

Kelly Burgoyne, Emma Pagnamenta, Kirstie Hartwell, Vesna Stojanovik

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Down syndrome is the most common genetic cause of intellectual disability, affecting 700-800 babies annually in the UK (1). Children with Down syndrome have difficulties developing language skills. These difficulties can have long term negative consequences for all aspects of their lives including social development, education and employment opportunities, and emotional wellbeing and mental health (2). These aspects all have the potential to be improved through targeted early language intervention. Parents and Children Together (PACT) is a parent-delivered early language teaching programme for typically-developing pre-school children at risk of language delays. A previous project (3) showed that PACT leads to improvements in children's language and early literacy skills. Our team has worked closely with six families to adapt PACT for children with Down syndrome. The aim of the current study is to conduct a feasibility randomised controlled trial (RCT) to evaluate the feasibility of a definitive RCT and explore initial evidence of the adapted programme’s potential to support children’s language and literacy development.

Method: This is a two-arm feasibility randomised controlled trial in which children will be randomly allocated to either a PACT-DS group or to a waiting control group (who will receive intervention at the end of the project). We aim to recruit 28-30 children with Down syndrome (aged 3-6 years) and their parents/caregivers to take part. The PACT-DS group will be trained to deliver PACT-DS every day (20-minutes a day; 5 days a week) to their child over 30-weeks. We will collect data using assessments of child language and early literacy, measures of parent wellbeing, qualitative surveys and interviews, and monitoring data to explore trial feasibility (including recruitment and retention of families, and adherence and acceptability of intervention) and cost and benefits. Data will be collected before intervention, immediately after the 30-week intervention programme, and 6-months after intervention ends. Clear progression criteria will be used to assess suitability for a definitive trial.

Discussion: This study represents initial steps in developing a definitive trial of the PACT-DS programme and will add to the limited evidence base on early language intervention for children with Down syndrome. This programme of research has the potential to make significant advancements in early language intervention research and practice for this group.
Original languageEnglish
JournalPilot and Feasibility Studies
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 16 Nov 2023


  • Down syndrome
  • Intervention
  • Parents
  • Language
  • Literacy


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