A Reading and Language Intervention for Children with Down Syndrome

DSE's Reading and Language Intervention for Children with Down Syndrome (RLI) is an evidence-based programme designed to teach reading and language skills to children with Down syndrome. RLI incorporates best practice in structured activities delivered in fast-paced daily teaching sessions. It was evaluated in a landmark randomized controlled trial and found to improve rates of progress compared to ordinary teaching.

"a fantastic resource that is most definitely going to assist not only our Down syndrome pupils but also others with learning difficulties" (Literacy Co-ordinator, Special School, UK)

RLI provides individualized reading and language instruction designed to meet the particular learning needs of students with Down syndrome. It is based on interventions that have been shown to be beneficial for other children experiencing language and reading difficulties, and incorporates the principles of best practice for all children.


The intervention includes a reading strand and a language strand, each of which includes several components. Daily one-to-one teaching sessions are expected to last 40 minutes (either as a single 40-minute or two 20-minute sessions). Teaching sessions follow a five day cycle, with new content taught on days 1-4, and revision and consolidation on day 5. The intervention follows a prescribed framework within which content and teaching are tailored to meet individual needs.


RLI was evaluated by researchers at Down Syndrome Education International and at The Centre for Reading and Language at the University of York in a randomized controlled trial, involving 57 children with Down syndrome attending 50 mainstream schools in two areas of the United Kingdom.

The study, published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, found that:

  • Children receiving the intervention made faster progress on average on a number of measures than children receiving ordinary teaching.
  • Gains on four outcome measures were statistically significant (in other words, they are considered unlikely to have occurred by chance) after 20 weeks of intervention. These were single word reading, letter-sound knowledge, phoneme blending and taught expressive vocabulary, reflecting the skills that were most directly targeted by the intervention.
  • Children receiving the intervention gained an average 4.6 words on a measure of single word reading over 20 weeks, compared with an average 2.0 words for children in a control group not receiving the intervention: a gain of 2.6 words.
  • By the end of the study, 1 in 5 children with Down syndrome achieved word reading scores similar to those expected of typically developing children of the same age.
  • Teachers reported that the predictable structure of the intervention led to improved behavior, attention and engagement in learning.
  • Rates of progress for individual children varied widely with some children making substantial progress quickly, some children steadily making slower progress, and a few children making little or no progress.
  • Children who started the programme at a younger age, who had better receptive language skills at the outset, and who received the most intervention sessions generally made the greatest progress.

Further information about our findings is also available from Down Syndrome Education International's web site.

Further information

Further information about the design and evaluation of RLI is available from Down Syndrome Education International's web site:

How to buy

The teacher's handbook can be purchased via our online store.

Down Syndrome Education USA works to improve education and early intervention for children with Down syndrome. Our research and evidence-based services and resources are helping thousands of young people with Down syndrome to achieve more than ever before.

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