Bilingualism in children with autism spectrum disorder: exploring the impact of dual languages

Principal Investigator(s):
Chantal Labonté
Grant Type:
Graduate Research
University of Alberta
Edmonton, Alberta (Canada)
Year Awarded:
Cognition and Executive Function; Education and School Aged Children


When children present with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), parents may be advised against exposing their child to a second language due to the concern among clinicians that exposure to a bilingual environment will delay language development. Research on bilingual ability in children with ASD has found that bilingualism does not confer any extra vulnerability on language development, and that bilingual language development similar to typically developing children is possible for children with ASD. Could bilingualism be an advantage for children with ASD? Research on typically developing bilingual children has found a relationship between language ability and specific cognitive and social functioning, in such a way that bilingual children’s development is advantaged compared to their monolingual peers. Gonzalez-Barrero and Nadig (2017) found an advantage in cognitive flexibility among 20 bilingual children with ASD compared to their monolingual peers. The present study aims to build on those findings to further explore the impact of bilingualism on the development of a set of cognitive abilities, referred to as executive function skills, responsible for control of attention and goal-oriented behaviour among bilingual children with ASD. Execution function skill deficits are common among children with ASD. While EF deficits are not a core ASD symptomology, supporting the EF development for children with ASD may lead to advantages in other areas of development and functioning. The research will be guided by the following questions: 1) Can bilingualism mitigate EF difficulties in children with ASD on performance based tasks, 2) Can bilingualism mitigate EF difficulties in children with ASD on parent report measures? 3) Do bilingual children with ASD experience an advantage in adaptive and social functioning compared to monolingual children with ASD? The expected outcomes aim to add to the small amount of evidence showing that bilingualism does not disadvantage the development of children with ASD, but may also lead to developmental advantages.

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