Bilingualism and Autism

Manuela Perea, Erin Reilly

Autism Spectrum Disorder(ASD) is a developmental condition that affects how people interact, communicate, and behave. The symptoms can range from nonverbal to difficulty developing language skills. Caregivers of children with autism are often hesitant to speak to their children in the home language as they fear it might increase their language difficulties (Ijalba,2016). This fear is a result of being advised not to expose their children to a second language to avoid delaying their language development. (Thordardottir, 2002). However, there is no research to show that being bilingual is detrimental to language development in autistic children (Wang, 2018). On the contrary, autistic bilingual children have displayed social and communicative advantages over autistic monolingual children. (Zhou, 2019). The purpose of this current study is to learn more about attitudes toward bilingualism and to compare professional perspectives on bilingualism in regard to typically developing children to those on the spectrum. Parent participants completed a modified questionnaire from Kay-Raining Bird et al. (2012). Participants included 41 parents of typically developing children and 7 parents of autistic children. We hypothesized that caregivers of typically developing children are advised to speak to their children in both languages or not are not getting advice about which languages to speak. On the contrary, we hypothesize that caregivers of autistic children are continuing to get advice about only speaking English to their children based on previous findings (Ijalba, 2016; Thordardottir, 2002). Data from the questionnaire was compared between the two groups and we found that the results did not agree with our hypothesis. A much greater portion of the typically developing group was advised by a family physician to not raise their child bilingual when compared to the autistic group. However, only one member of the autistic group was advised to not raise their child bilingually by the child’s preschool teachers or daycare providers. In conclusion, professional training and parent education are needed. Physicians need training and education on bilingualism as well as Autism Spectrum Disorder, and families should be encouraged to raise bilingual children.