slide_2.jpgFor many years the effects of bilingualism and multilingualism have proven to be positive, healthy and long-lasting. Among the many benefits are the strengthening of cognitive skills as well as the improvement of communication capabilities. The majority of the studies to prove these effects have been conducted on people lacking any sort of developmental disorder. However, recent studies have shown that children with autism are no strangers to the benefits of bilingualism.

Frequently, multilingual families are told that it is best to use one language to communicate with their autistic child. Many professionals believe that this will eliminate confusion, though in the long-term sense it can do quite the opposite. A family’s heritage language may be different than that of the predominant language where they live; perhaps a family is from Italy and they’ve moved to America and have chosen English as the language to communicate with their child. Making this decision seems wise considering everyone surrounding them speaks English. But what if their English isn’t very strong? As the child grows older, they’ll learn to communicate more complex thoughts in a language of which their family only has an elementary understanding. Eventually, it will get to a point where there is a language barrier among the family members that could lead to confusion and miscommunication.

In children without developmental disorders, bilingualism is known to enhance reading and writing skills, as well as improve their attention span and self-control. These benefits can also be seen in children with autism. A 2012 study showed that bilingual children with autism were using hand gestures when talking with others, proving their proficiency in nonverbal communication.

Autism tends to socially seclude children. Encouraging (or forcing?) them to be the only monolingual person in a house full of multilingual people is a guaranteed way to further isolate them.

Though the studies are minimal, there is evidence of overlap in the advantages of bilingualism and some of the problem areas in autistic children.

What do you think about the idea of teaching an autistic child a foreign language? Do you know any bilingual people with autism? Can you think of some benefits that aren’t mentioned here? Comment below, we’d love to hear your thoughts!


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