Bilingualism and Autism

BilingualismThis project aimed to find out more about the relationship between bilingualism and autism. It was run by four researchers at the University of Edinburgh: Sue Fletcher-Watson, Hugh Rabagliati, Antonella Sorace and Sarah Hampton. As a result of our work in this field so far we have produced this bilingualism and autism fact sheet summarising the issues ot consider when deciding whether to speak one or two languages with a child with autism.

What were the main aims of the project?

Speaking more than one language has been linked with a number of cognitive and social benefits such as advantages in communication skills, perspective taking and flexible thinking. It has also been linked with a slight delay in acquiring language. As yet, there is very little research looking at how these advantages and disadvantages might be relevant to children with autism who grow up in a multilingual household.

This study aimed to gain a better idea of the relationship between autism and growing up in a multilingual environment. Ultimately, the study aimed to provide evidence that can help multilingual families with a child with autism decide whether or not bringing up their child to speak more than one language is the right fit for their particular family.

What did the project involve?

The project involved conducting interviews with multilingual families with a child with autism. The interviews explored the choices the families had faced and what the families felt the influences were on the languages they spoke in their household.

In addition, data from a previous study involving both children with autism in monolingual households and children with autism in bilingual households was re-analysed. The data included measures of language and social development.

Where are we now?

We have completed our data collection and presented this poster summarising our findings at the 2016 Budapest CEU Conference on Cognitive Development.  We also have two academic articles reporting on the work which are currently being considered by journals in the field. Most importantly, we are using this preliminary, small project as an opportunity to secure some more funding for a substantial project on the same topic.

BCCCD pic Sarah H