(Last Updated On: 26 January 2022)

Is multilingualism contraindicated in autism?

We conducted research to investigate whether language choice is related to social competence in children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). 

This project was conducted by Maïte Franco in the context of her Master thesis in Psychology, under the supervision of Dr. Andreia Costa from the Health and Behaviour Group of the Department of Behavioural and Cognitive Sciences.

WHY MULTILINGUALISM AND SOCIAL SKILLS?

Many parents of children with ASD are given advice about which language to use when interacting with their child (e.g., to limit themselves to one language). However, scientific research suggests that advising parents to monolingualism cannot be scientifically supported and that multilingualism is not harmful, but potentially even beneficial to children with ASD. Especially with regard to social skills and relationships, some research suggests that parents should continue to interact with their child in their native language, even if this would result in bi- or multilingual communication. 

Although the results must be interpreted with caution with respect to socioeconomic status, it has been shown that multilingualism is related to greater awareness, executive functioning and inhibitory control, personal enrichment, cultural transmission, and social benefits in typically developing children. Therefore, there is a likelihood that children with ASD may enjoy the same benefits. 

The language socialization paradigm states that language acquisition and the socialization process are integrated. Therefore, a child is not only socialized to use a language, but is socialized by the language as well. This would imply that a child’s socialization would be related to the languages used. Knowing that social and communicative skills are limited in children with ASD, the analysis of this relationship could eventually be used to train these skills and improve the supervision of the families and children concerned. 

WHY INVESTIGATE THIS RELATIONSHP IN LUXEMBOURG?

Many countries have multicultural influences and monolingualism is becoming more and more difficult to maintain – especially in Luxembourg, a country so rich in cultures and languages. In Luxembourg many parents are advised to restrict themselves to speaking only French with their child. French is an official language and facilitates access to more care and therapeutic services. However, as many of the families concerned do not have French nationality and do not consider themselves native speakers of the language, this can lead to uncertainty, distress and complications regarding contact with their children. 

Luxembourg fulfills the necessary requirements for this research and was able to provide the necessary information for the analysis of the relationship between multilingualism and social skills of children with ASD in order to improve the guidance and support of this population. Not only is this important for the families involved, but also for their caregivers and educational and therapeutic staff. 

THE STUDY

Most of the research with children with ASD mentioned above is based on single case studies. Therefore, this research project sought to investigate the potential effect of multilingualism on the social skills and relationships of children with ASD in a larger sample.  

The data for this research was collected via an online questionnaire, which was offered in German, English and French versions. The first part of the questionnaire included questions on the demographics of the parent/guardian and child respectively, the linguistic proficiency and education of the parent/guardian and child and the parent/guardian-child relationship. The questionnaire also contained the Autism Spectrum Quotient-Child version (AQ-Child) questionnaire, the second edition of the Social Responsiveness Scale (SRS-2), and a few self-constructed questions on the parent/guardian’s well-being. The questionnaire had to be completed by a parent or legal guardian of the child.  

This study has been approved by the ethics committee of the University of Luxembourg: ERP 20-019 SSMCA 

CONTACT

For more information about this study, please contact us at autisme@uni.lu or here: 


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