Bilingualism in Autism: Harmful or Beneficial? (Source: Scottish Autism)

Direct research into how speaking or hearing more than one language effects the development of children with autism is scarce. This means that families have little information to help them when deciding whether or not to raise their child with autism bilingually – a pressing question for the increasing number of families in our community who speak multiple languages.
More evidence that asks whether this “bilingual exposure” (i.e. hearing more than one language) might be harmful or beneficial to children on the spectrum is needed. As a foundation for this, a recently conducted study at the University of Edinburgh explores how 17 bilingual parents of children with autism (from a wide variety of language backgrounds) make choices about the languages their child heard and spoke. Based on the results of this study, and on the (limited) other published work in the area, the potential advantages and disadvantages of bilingualism for children with autism are outlined below.
What reasons are there not to raise a child with autism bilingually?
Many parents of children with autism in the study had concerns that exposing their child to more than one language would cause confusion and increase language delays. As a result, parents often dramatically reduced their child’s exposure to a second language after diagnosis. For instance, one parent commented, ‘I’m scared of putting in too much confusion, and he doesn’t understand anything at all. So, that’s why I just said, right OK, English and that’s it.’
Some parents reported that they were also advised by professionals to provide an English-only environment for their child. Unsurprisingly, for parents in the study, concerns about bilingualism were strongly related to their child’s speaking ability. Parents of more verbally able children tended to express more positive views of bilingualism, whereas those of children with limited speech showed greater concerns: ‘for any kid that’s like David or worse, when it comes to communication, no, I don’t think it’s a good idea to try several languages. It’s hard enough with the single one.’

Read more about this research on Scottish Autism site

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