PACT-DS (2022-2024)

PACT-DS aims to adapt the PACT early language teaching programme specifically for parents and young children (aged 3-6 years old) with Down syndrome.

The adapted programme (PACT-DS) will be evaluated to test its effectiveness. This is an ESRC-funded project that started in August 2022 and runs until December 2024.

What is the purpose of PACT-DS?

Finding ways to support language development from an early age is critical for children with Down syndrome, but very little evidence-based support for early language development is currently available (O’Toole et al, 2018).

A recent review of the available evidence found that children with Down syndrome can make significant gains in language from targeted intervention (Smith et al, 2020). However, the youngest children in these studies were 5 years old and interventions were largely delivered in school.

Given that parents can implement language intervention techniques at home (Roberts et al, 2019) there is potential for intervention to start earlier. Therefore, high-quality studies evaluating parent-delivered early language intervention for young children with Down syndrome are urgently needed.

Parents and Children Together (PACT) is an evidence-based parent-delivered language teaching programme which leads to gains in pre-school children’s language and literacy skills (Burgoyne et al, 2018).

While originally developed for typically developing children at risk of language delays, the programme uses many strategies that support language learning and development in individuals with Down syndrome.

The aim of the current project (PACT-DS) is to adapt and evaluate PACT as a language learning tool for young children with Down syndrome.

“Children with Down syndrome have the potential to benefit from targeted language intervention.”


(Burgoyne, 2020; Seager et al, 2021; Smith et al, 2020)

Our research questions

This project aims to answer the following research questions:

  1. What adaptations support parents to carry out the PACT programme with children with DS?
  2. How feasible is it to complete a definitive randomised controlled trial of the intervention?
  3. What are the potential benefits of the intervention for children’s language and literacy development?

Take part in PACT-DS

In July 2023-September 2023, we are looking for 28-30 families with children with Down syndrome to take part in Stage 2 of the project, commencing September 2023.

If you have a child with Down syndrome aged 3-6 years and live within 40 miles of The University of Manchester or the University of Reading, and are interested in finding out more, then please get in touch with us by emailing: and

PACT-DS Newsletter

PACT-DS Summer Newsletter (PDF)

Meet the team

The University of Manchester

Kelly Burgoyne

Dr Kelly BurgoyneKelly is a lecturer in psychology and education at the Manchester Institute of Education, University of Manchester. Her research focuses on language and literacy development, disorders, and intervention.

Kelly has particular experience in the development and evaluation of interventions to support children’s reading and language development and is lead author on 2 educational interventions (Reading and Language Intervention for children with Down syndrome, and Parents and Children Together).

View Kelly’s research profile.

Kirstie Hartwell

Kirstie is a postdoctoral research associate at The University of Manchester.

Her PhD research explored how children’s social reasoning develops as they grow – how children think, make decisions, and communicate their reasons to others.

Before joining PACT, Kirstie completed a BSc Speech and Language Therapy degree at the University, then joined the Child Study Centre as a PhD researcher.

She has significant experience working with young children and their families, and on research projects focused on children’s social and cognitive development.

View Kirstie’s research profile.

University of Reading

Emma Pagnamenta

Emma PagnamentaEmma is a lecturer in speech and language therapy at the University of Reading. She is a practicing speech and language therapist with clinical experience of working with children and young people with Down syndrome.

Emma’s research is focused on interventions for developmental speech and language disorders, with particular experience in conducting research studies to develop and test interventions for young children with Down syndrome and their families.

Prior to taking up her current role at the University of Reading, Emma was the Research Manager for the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists.

View Emma’s research profile.

Vesna Stojanovik

Vesna StojanovikVesna is a professor of clinical linguistics at the University of Reading.

Her research interests focus on the nature of language and communication development in children affected by genetic conditions such as Williams syndrome and Down syndrome.

Vesna is particularly interested in interventions to improve the communication outcomes for children and optimising children’s educational and social outcomes through intervention.

View Vesna’s research profile.

Rebecca Baxter

Dr Rebecca (Becky) Baxter

Becky is a research assistant at The University of Reading.

Her PhD research involved developing and evaluating a language intervention for children with Down syndrome at University College London. Becky has also been involved in a number of research projects across speech, language and education issues associated with Down syndrome.

In addition to her role in PACT-DS, Becky is a speech and language therapist who specialises in Down syndrome. In 2011, Becky started the independent practice LETS Go! providing a comprehensive range of services developed to support children and young adults with Down syndrome, their families and professionals working with this client group.






Meet our Steering Group

Our Steering Group gives us vital input and advice to help shape the project.

We are very fortunate to have a steering group of eight experts with a variety of knowledge, backgrounds, and interests working with us on PACT-DS.

They kindly volunteer their time and we are very grateful for their support.

Bernadette Brooks

Bernadette is a parent and former group coordinator of South Manchester DS Support Group

Sarah Holton

Sarah is a Specialist Inclusion Advisory Teacher with LETS Go! and supports children with Down syndrome through pre-school early development groups, nursery and school outreach and training for parents and professionals.

She also has a teenage son who has Down syndrome.

Helen McCann

Helen is a parent and a Teacher of the Deaf

Margarita Panayiotou

Margarita is a University of Manchester researcher with expertise in quantitative methods and RCTs.

She is interested in psychometrics and advanced statistical methods within child and adolescent mental health. Part of her work has focused on the evaluation of interventions and the application of new methodologies to account for the role of intervention implementation.

She is also interested in improving the conceptualisation and measurement of social media use to better understand its impact on adolescent mental health.

View Margarita’s research profile.

Gideon Salter

Gideon is a postdoctoral researcher and university teacher at the University of Sheffield.

His research focuses on the development of joint attention, communication and language in early childhood, and also addresses how early communication interventions can support language development.

View Gideon’s research profile.

Pauline Frizelle

Dr Pauline Frizelle is a senior lecturer at University College Cork and a former speech and language therapy manager.

Pauline worked clinically with people with Down syndrome for many years and is now actively researching their speech language and communication needs.

She is particularly interested in developing effective interventions to improve the lives of people with Down syndrome from preschool into adulthood.

View Pauline’s research profile.

Kari-Anne Naess

Kari-Anne is a Professor in Special Needs Education (Speech and Language Therapy) with expertise in language development and interventions for children with Down syndrome at the University of Oslo, Norway.

View Kari-Anne’s research profile.

Collette Lloyd

Collette is a specialist speech and language therapist and a parent of a child with Down syndrome.

Susan Chryssovergis

Susan is a NHS Speech and Language therapist working for the Complex Needs and Children’s Integrated Therapy and Nursing Service Lancashire and South Cumbria Foundation Trust. She has worked as an SLT for over 20 years and is the clinical lead for complex needs for the trust.

Susan has a special interest in Down syndrome and with the team has written a document called the Down Syndrome toolkit detailing research in the field, with the support of Prof Sue Buckley and Dr Kelly Burgoyne. She is also a visiting lecturer on the UCLAN Speech and Language Masters course.

Project timelime

Stage 1: August 2022 – August 2023

Aim: To adapt PACT for children with Down syndrome.

We worked with 6 families and their children with Down syndrome to identify and evaluate adaptations to the programme, creating an adapted version specifically tailored to children with Down syndrome, which we call ‘PACT-DS’. A big thank you to all our families for taking part!

Stage 2: September 2023 – December 2024

Aim: To evaluate the feasibility and acceptability of PACT-DS with parents/caregivers and young children with Down syndrome. The results of this project will help us determine whether it is feasible to conduct a further, larger study to evaluate the programme.

PACT-DS Stage 2 Trial Registration

Outputs and impact
  • Fully developed parent-delivered intervention programme for children with Down syndrome.
  • Critical knowledge about the feasibility and potential of the programme.

Contact us

If you would like to know more about PACT-DS, including how to get involved, please contact Kelly Burgoyne.