For Children with Autism, Multiple Languages May Be a Boon

Posted on July 27, 2016

The science — what little exists — in fact suggests that these children should embrace multilingualism.

“There are few studies on bilingualism in children with developmental disorders, and even fewer with appropriate control groups,” says Napoleon Katsos, lecturer in linguistics at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom.

In typical children, learning a second or third language hones critical thinking and executive function — a set of skills that includes attention, self-control and mental flexibility. It also gives them an edge in reading and writing.

Children with developmental delays might reap those same benefits. Bilingual children with autism have language skills on par with monolingual childrenwith the condition, and they acquire social and cognitive skills at the same rate. But these children are twice as likely as monolingual children with autism to use gestures such as pointing when they communicate, according to a 2012 study. This finding suggests that they have a strong command of joint attention and are adept at nonverbal communication.

The standard tools for evaluating a child’s social and communication skills are in English, and may underestimate the skills of bilingual children with autism, says Kruti Acharya, assistant professor of disability and human development at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

At the 2016 International Meeting for Autism Research in Baltimore, Acharya’s team presented preliminary results showing that a picture book a child narrates in his native language can more accurately assess his communication skills.

This approach could be particularly useful for autism clinicians in Europe, where dozens of languages are spoken, says Fletcher-Watson.

“There are some good reasons to be optimistic about the potential benefits of bilingualism,” Fletcher-Watson says. “There’s a big overlap between the areas that we think are helped by bilingual exposure and the areas where children with autism struggle.”

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Category(s):Autism spectrum disorders

Source material from Scientific American


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