Although we continue to have a huge need for research in the area of multilingualism and autism spectrum disorder, we are fortunate to have an increase in studies and publications. This is a little nudge in the ribs for you research inclined SLT’s!
What does the research say about our early intervention and preschool population with an ASD diagnosis?
One study in China on children with an ASD diagnosis focused on parent reported communication development, specifically pragmatic language and structural communication development (Reetzke, Zou, Sheng & Katsos, 2015). A group of monolingual children were compared with bilingual children. Parent ratings showed no statistically significant difference in the pragmatic or structural language abilities in the dominant language of bilingual children when compared to their monolingual peers with ASD. In other studies on children with autism, (Petersen et al 2012) children with ASD who were bilingual were found to have a larger vocabulary than their monolingual peers when total vocabulary was taken into account.
The take away! Exposure to two languages has not resulted in a negative impact on the dominant language for clients with an ASD diagnosis. When we discuss with our families the possibility of limiting the primary language and focusing on English only, we need to consider the following consequences:
*If the parents are not fluent in English, the child may have less exposure to a language rich environment.
*The child’s inability to understand the primary language may further limit interactions in the community and among family members which may result in social isolation which is the exact opposite of what we’re trying to target with our clients and their families. We need them to have the ability to have meaningful interaction, which won’t happen if their exposure to their primary language is limited.