JOURNAL ARTICLE

Evaluating 'enhancing pragmatic language skills for young children with social communication impairments' (E-PLAYS): protocol for a feasibility randomised controlled trial study

Suzanne Murphy, Victoria Joffe, David Messer, Sarah Crafter, Jessica Radley, Sailaa Sunthararajah, Kerry Bell, Belen Corbacho, Caroline Fairhurst, Sara Rodgers, David Torgerson, Charlie Welch
Pilot and Feasibility Studies 2019, 5: 75
31198579

Background: A number of children experience difficulties with social communication and this has long-term deleterious effects on their mental health, social development and education. The proposal presented in this article describes a feasibility study for a trial to test an intervention ('E-PLAYS') aimed at supporting children with social communication impairments. E-PLAYS harnesses technology in the form of a novel computer game in order to develop collaborative and communication skills. Preliminary studies by the authors show that when E-PLAYS was administered by the research team, children with social communication impairments showed improvements on communication test scores and on observed collaborative behaviours. The study described here is a pragmatic trial to test the application of E-PLAYS delivered by NHS speech and language therapists together with schools.

Methods: This protocol outlines a two-arm feasibility cluster-randomised controlled trial of the E-PLAYS intervention with treatment as usual control arm, with randomisation at the level of the speech and language therapist. The aim of this study is to ascertain whether it will be feasible to progress to running a full-scale definitive trial to test the effectiveness of E-PLAYS in an NHS setting. Data relating to recruitment and retention, the appropriateness of outcomes and the acceptability of E-PLAYS to participants will be collected.Speech and language therapists will select suitable children (ages 4-7 years old) from their caseloads and deliver either the E-PLAYS intervention (experimental group) or treatment as usual (control group). Assessments will include blinded language measures and observations, non-blinded teacher-reported measures of peer relations and classroom behaviour and parent-reported use of resources and quality of life. There will also be a qualitative process evaluation.

Discussion: The findings of this study will inform the decision as to whether to progress to a full-scale definitive randomised controlled trial to test the effectiveness of E-PLAYS when delivered by speech and language therapists and teaching assistants within schools. The use of technology in game form is a novel approach in an area where there are currently few available interventions.

Trial registration: ISRCTN 14818949 (retrospectively registered).

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