To speak one or two languages: That is the question!
Exposure to two languages does not harm the language development of young children developmental disorders.
Our recent blog post “Which to Choose: One Language or Two” also looked at bilingualism in children with autism. The researchers in that article studied older children with ASD, aged 4-10 years. They found that some children with autism can learn two languages and that the amount of time hearing each language is related to the child’s language skills.
Continue to read below if you are curious how bilingualism affects the language of toddlers with autism and other developmental disorders!
What is the background?
“Will speaking to my child in both English and Spanish be bad for my child’s language skills?”
This is a common question bilingual parents of children with autism or other developmental disorders ask their speech-language pathologists. It has become increasingly common for children to live in bilingual households, where two languages are being spoken. So, this question is asked more and more. Many parents fear that learning two languages may be too hard for their child who already has language difficulties. Thus, parents often stop speaking their native language to their child, which can create a sense of sadness and loss for the family. Many healthcare professionals, such as speech-language pathologists and pediatricians, often recommend that parents only speak one language to their child with a developmental disorder, despite the lack of supporting research.
What did these researchers study?
The researchers studied the impact of bilingual exposure on the language skills of toddlers with autism and other developmental disorders, including global developmental delays and developmental language disorder. They looked at 388 children who were about two years old, who were recently diagnosed with autism or a developmental disorder. Of these children, about half were only exposed to English (monolingual-exposure) and the other half were exposed to two languages (bilingual-exposure), such as English and Spanish. The researchers tested the children’s language skills, both what they understood and what they said, to learn if bilingualism affected their language development.
So, what did the researchers learn?
The researchers found no difference in language skills between the children exposed to one language (monolingual-exposure) versus those exposed to two languages (bilingual-exposure). This held true for children with autism as well as children with developmental disorders.
What should I take-away from this study?
- Living in a bilingual household will not hurt the language development of children developmental disorders.
- Bilingual parents of young children with autism and other developmental disorders should continue to speak to their child in their preferred language or languages. So, have fun talking to your child in any language!
- Speech-language pathologists, developmental therapists, teachers and pediatricians should use this research, and the research summarized in our recent blog post, to inform families who are bilingual.
Dai, Y. G., Burke, J. D., Naigles, L., Eigsti, I., & Fein, D. A. (2018). Language abilities in monolingual- and bilingual- exposed children with autism or other developmental disorders. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 55, 38-49.