The Language Environment of Children with Down Syndrome in Primary and Secondary School Settings
: Case Studies of the Impact of Speech Rates and Speech Strategies

  • Jin-Chang Huang

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


This research focuses on the language environment of children with Down syndrome (DS) in primary and secondary classrooms. In contrast to much of the previous work in this area, the study takes both qualitative and quantitative approaches to data collection. In particular, it highlights teachers’ speech rates and speech strategies in relation to children’s individual listening comprehension.Previous research shows that the listening comprehension of children with DS may be limited by deficits in phonological loop capacity and hearing loss. However, most of this previous research has used quantitative measures to compare the memory performances of children with DS with their typically developing or mental agematched peers. This has tended to result in conclusions that regard children with DS as a homogeneous group. This study, however, aims to consider each child with DS as an individual and to explore in depth the relationship between their listening comprehension and teachers’ speech rates and speech strategies in classroom settings.The study was conducted in 2 stages, both using case-study approach to investigate individual children’s interactions with their class teachers (CTs) and teaching assistants (TAs).The Stage 1 research was conducted with three case-study children in four distinct phases and used an inductive approach to collect data. Phase one observed each child in their classroom environment, involving the interactions between teaching staff and the case-study child. Phase two identified the child’s language ability by using standardised language assessments. Phase three then assessed the impact of speech rates on children’s understandings and, finally, Phase four tested the research validity by representing the stories with a counter-balanced design. The results of the Stage 1 research suggested that the use of the slow speech rate improves the children’s listening comprehension although there were clear indications that there would bemore significant benefit if they could be given more time to process information.The Stage 2 research focused on speech strategies, with an emphasis on clustered speech and a deductive approach was adopted. Six additional children with DS were assessed by the BPVS and WISC-IV to investigate further speech rate but also in the context of speech strategies. This further examined whether clustered speech could be beneficial to improving the children’s listening comprehension. The findings show that the clustered speech strategy can improve the listening comprehension of all of the children in this phase, particularly at the slow normal speech rate. The key benefit of this strategy is that it can be used to offset problems in processing information that the children experience because of their limited memory capacity. The outcome of my research can provide teaching staff with knowledge that will enable them to enhance the listening comprehension of children with DS.
Date of Award31 Dec 2013
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorJill Porter (Supervisor) & Kathleen Bullock (Supervisor)


  • down syndrome
  • case study
  • teachers' speech rates and speech strategies
  • memory capacity
  • primary and secondary schools

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