A new study published in Child Development has reported that children with Autistic Spectrum Disorders (ASD) may benefit from speaking two languages.
The study found reasons to believe that autistic bilingual children have an easier time switching between tasks than their autistic peers who are unilingual.
The debate of whether the bilingual advantage is a real thing in terms of executive functions wasn’t put into the context of autism until recently. Professor Aparna Nadig from McGill University, who is the senior author of the paper, explained the phenomenon.
Some researchers have argued convincingly that living as a bilingual person and having to switch languages unconsciously to respond to the linguistic context in which the communication is taking place increases cognitive flexibility.
Comparing 40 children, aged between six and nine, with or without ASD, and also bilingual or monolingual, the study aimed to get conclusions from computer-generated tests.
By sorting objects on a screen, the researchers found that bilingual autistic kids performed “significantly better” in the more complex part of the task-shifting test than the unilingual children with ASD.
The research took place in a bilingual community of Montreal, and it challenged the former beliefs that learning another language can worsen the already troubled communication skills of kids with ASD. Despite the study being pretty small, it offers highly promising conclusions and will continue to follow the kids that participated in the study for several years.
A good, unintrusive, unstructured way to help your kid bilingual (if it’s not living in a bilingual community or a household) is to have them watch cartoons or kid shows in the other language, with English being a subtitle. They could easily pick up on the basics of another language.