What Language Should You Teach to Children with Autism in Bilingual Families

A recently published study suggests that children with Autistic Spectrum Disorders (ASD) might find it easier to switch tasks if they have been brought up learning a second language.

Released in the Child Development journal, the research conducted found that there are new grounds to believe that ASD children have improved a cognitive flexibility compared to those Autistic children that grew up in a monolingual household.

Bilingual Families: Which Language Should You Teach your Autistic Child

By Eva Henderson

Bilingual Bonus

Professor Aparna Nadig of McGill University and the paper’s senior researcher said the work had been the subject of a long period of research and development, “For the last fifteen years there’s been a significant back and forth in this field over whether there’s an advantage to bilingual children when it comes to executive functions.

Certain research has pointed in a concrete direction to the increased cognitive benefits of having an unconscious ability to swap between languages”. Until now, however, this phenomenon hasn’t been considered within the context of autistic child development

The study compared 40 children from six to nine years old in a series of tests, the participants being, variously, with and without ASD and monolingual and bilingual.

By playing through a series of games involving the correct categorization of objects, the data returned picked up a significant boost in performance between the ASD participant who were bilingual compared to the ASD children who spoke just a single language.

What Language Should You Teach to Children with Autism in Bilingual Families

Mother Tongue

Previous schools of thought argued that exposing a ASD child to another language on a consistent basis could hamper their development by making it harder to learn a single language successfully. However, now that more recent and more rigorously researched studies have shown that the opposite may well be true, the question that remains, therefore, is which language should be taught to children in autistic families.

The short answer is whatever is easiest for the parents to speak themselves. It’s not so much the particular language that seems to be of importance, but rather the cognitive benefits imparted by learning a second language in and of itself.

The ease with which a child will pick up another language will largely be down to the parent or parents’ level of fluency in said language. This will enable them to speak it with a greater degree of precision across a wider set of circumstances, and allow the child to absorb the second language in a more intuitive fashion.

Which Language to Pick?

To that end, parents should speak whatever language comes easiest to them. If they themselves were raised in a bilingual household then they should obvious resort to that language to speak in front of their child. If you want to teach your child to speak English as a second language, there are always online courses like Effortless English, who will help anyone looking to improve their English become confident and fluent.

Considerations like the usefulness of the language for, say, employment purposes should be tertiary at best: there is no point in a parent arbitrarily attempting to learn Mandarin in an effort to be able to speak it to their child.

Whatever option is least stressful is going to be the most advisable, not least because it will be less draining for the parent to speak it with regularity and proper application.

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Should the parent be uni-lingual without precedent of a second language in their cultural or family background, the best language to pick would be one that will have the most proximity to the child’s upbringing.

For example, Americans would be advised to learn Spanish. It’s widely spoken and relatively easy to pick up, and there are plenty of opportunities to expose the child to it via the abundance of Spanish-language television and radio coverage available across the country.

For similar reasons, Canadian families could try bringing up their child with French as their auxiliary language. How difficult it is to provide a second language will ultimately depend on the parents’ circumstances and background, but the benefits are certainly worth of consideration.

What Language Should You Teach to Children with Autism in Bilingual Families

By naturally learning a second language, an autistic child can enjoy an intuitive framework that builds their skills in a long term fashion and offers opportunity for development from moment to moment in a way that many other therapies don’t.

Whether raising an ASD child bilingually will be successful depends on the parents’ commitment to learning and speaking another language around their child, but by making it as easy on themselves as possible, they’re more likely to stick with it for the long haul and give their child the chance to enjoy the myriad benefits to cognitive ability it can impart.

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