Proven benefits of Bilingualism in Autism – 7 easy yet powerful tips for teaching your child to be bilingual

Language is a method of communication that is available universally. We use language as a tool to express our opinions and emotions. The language further provides us with identification and helps us to connect with others.

Many people become so passionate about this powerful tool that they do not stop with the knowledge of one language but get empowered with two or more. That’s right, the majority of the population are bilingual or even multilingual.

Benefits of Bilingualism in Autism – 7 easy yet powerful tips for teaching your child to be bilingual

Bilingualism is the use of two or more languages by an individual.

To be or not to be Bilingual with your Autistic child has invariably remained a question in our community.

However, did you know that being bilingual might develop your kids’ cognitive skills?

The research speaks about the benefits of bilingualism.

Studies reveal that bilingual children with Autism acquire better cognitive skills than monolingual children from an early age.

The question you have in your mind right now is, how does speaking a second language develop my autistic kid’s cognitive skills?

According to a new study that was published in Child Development,

Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) often have a hard time switching gears from one task to another. However, being bilingual may make it a bit easier for them to do so.

They also further mention 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.

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“Can Bilingualism Mitigate Set-Shifting Difficulties in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders?” by Ana Maria Gonzalez-Barrero and Aparna S. Nadig in Child Development

They perform better cognitive skills because children who learn two languages at an early age are applying the areas of the brain more than children who receive knowledge of only one language.

Valicenti-McDermott reviewed at testing data for toddlers with ASD. Their analysis revealed that bilingual toddlers with ASD cooed more often than the monolinguals. The bilingual groups also demonstrated increased pointing, leading to desired objects, and pretend play.


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Valicenti-McDermott, M., Tarshis, N., Schouls, M., Galdston, M., Hottinger, K., Seijo, R., Shulman, L., & Shinnar, S. (2012). Language difference between monolingual English and bilingual English-Spanish young children with autism spectrum disorders. Journal of Child Neurology, 28(7), 945-948.

Autism comes with a deficit of social communication; therefore, determining the practice of secondary language amongst the families of children with Autism is relevant.

Fahim & Nedwick argue that since the home is an ideal place to teach functional communication, parents should not limit their interactions with their ASD children to only the mainstream languages.

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Fahim, D. & Nedwick, K. (2014). Around the world: Supporting young children with ASD who are dual language learners. Young Exceptional Children, 17(2), 3-20.

Carrie Slaymaker, M.A., CCC-SLP, discusses the benefit of enabling autistic children to remain bilingual when different languages are used in the home and academic setting

Why should I make my child Bilingual?

It is a myth in the world of Autism not to introduce your native language to your child with Autism and to forever stick with monolingualism.

While parents converse with their children in their native language, they bond stronger by conveying more emotions than when they speak the non-native language.

When exposed to multiple languages in their environment from an early age, it is an advantage for your child. The reason is, when you communicate with other family members in your native language around your child, chances are your child will not get intimidated as the sound of your native language is familiar to them.

Children exposed to their native language are provided with the possibility to interact with extended family members. When they understand their home language, engage adequately in family gatherings, and benefit from enriched cultural connections.

Research also proves that two languages spoken in the home of a child with autism do not conflict with their communication skill negatively.

Balanced Bilingual

(Feat. Krish – My older son, Girish – My younger son with Autism)

Our home is filled with conversations in our native language; in fact, more than one. To be more precise, we are from southern India, and we speak Tamil, which is our primary language at home. Besides Tamil, we communicate in Hindi or have Hindi music playing on the radio almost 6 hrs a day. Apart from these two languages, my older son has taken Spanish as his second language in school. So, we also have Spanish interaction though sparingly.

Recalling the early years when my younger son with autism was non-verbal and didn’t speak his first word until he was 4, none of the specialists encouraged me to support bilingualism. Alternatively, they asked me to maintain monolingualism, stating it would help him comprehend with ease and that too many languages will delay his progress.

It was not convincing for me that introducing bilingualism may have had difficulty in my son’s development. Yet, we all maintained monolingual in English with him since he was mostly in multiple therapy sessions, and our prime goal was to teach him how to communicate his needs.

All our family members were conversing with Girish in English, and we maintained it until he was 6 years old. However, among the other family members and Krish as well, it was the native language.

Girish adapted our native language!

My joy knew no bounds when this incident happened one evening after school. Girish was 7 yrs at that time. Krish, my older son, was sharing a funny event from his school, and we both were laughing non-stop for some moments.

For the first time, Girish came to us with a big smile and asked in our native language, “Yenna Atchi,” meaning “What happened?”. (Oh my God!, I have a lump in my throat as I write this). Krish and I looked at each other shocked and smiling with overjoy as well, Krish asked him, “what did you say?”. Girish said, “Yenna atchi,” and laughed hilariously.

One more point to note here is that he not only used our native language but also used it appropriately to the situation. How? I will explain it soon.

We celebrated the above incident by calling and telling our family members. He discovered a new path towards his progress.

Many thoughts in my mind were flowing after that incident; I was thrilled that he accepted our native language, and it is comfortable in his tongue. He proved the experts wrong that an Autistic child cannot learn the second language.

How did he use our native language Tamil term so appropriately?

We speak in our native language, and Krish also speaks fluently from his young age. So, even though I was talking with Girish in English, I continued to speak in Tamil too, our native language.

You will all agree with me that when we have children around, the most used term is “What happened?”. It comes automatically, for eg.,

What happened? Why are you doing this?

What happened? Why are you crying?

What happened? Why did you spill this? And many more in a single day.

Am I right?

What I did a little different was –

I added “What happened” with “Yenna Atchi” – as a subtitle. Let me break it up –

You walk to your child to find out why he/she is upset.

You say – What happened? and immediately add Yenna Atchi (replace with your native language term)

The child might be anxious to listen to new words from you, but do not let that stop you from trying out different words. Keep it very simple. Let me give one more example; I will use the Hindi (Bollywood) language here.

Your child wants a cookie.

You say – Do you want a cookie, Tumhe cookie chahiye? Or more simple, cookie chahiye?

Start with just one or two words in the early stages. Don’t miss any chance to repeat the words. As you are aware that Autistic kids thrive on repetition. Remember, our goal in the early stage is to make your native language sound familiar to your child. Keep it consistent. One day he/she will pick up like how my son Girish said, “Yenna Atchi,” after 7-8 months.

Language is the road map of a culture. It tells you where it’s people come from and where they are going.

Rita Mae Brown

Sounds exciting and straightforward, right? I use simple yet powerful tips to teach my son to be bilingual.

I have been implementing these tips for the past 8 years, and indeed it has shown a significant effect on Girish getting adapted to 3 languages; Tamil, Hindi, and Spanish. He can speak 6-8 words in Tamil and use it appropriately to the situation, and 80% understand what we speak. The other two, Hindi and Spanish, he is familiar with the sound, and he can differentiate them.

7 easy yet powerful tips for teaching your child to be bilingual

Tip 1 – Subtitle your English sentences with your native language

As I mentioned above, I have found this tip to be very efficient.

Tip 2 – Involve your family members

Encourage your partner, your other kids to converse in the native language. It’s perfect to mix languages and talk with your child typically. Even when you have arguments, remember to bring up multiple languages. This way, we create a healthy linguistic balance.

Tip 3 – Encourage your extended family members and friends to interact in your native language with your child

Request your friends or extended family to converse with your child one or two sentences in your native language. If your child is comfortable talking over the phone, then encourage him/her to answer back in your native language, reward her instantly even if she/he makes an effort to listen.

Tip 4 – Play music in your native language in the background always

Music plays a vital role in the development of an autistic child. Playing music in your native language in the background will not only calm your child but also make him/her aware of a new language.

Tip 5 – Introduce your child to native language TV and Video shows

Kids’ TV or video shows are available in multiple languages. Get them from the library or online. These programs introduce the children to new words and, at the same time, can be very educational. When Girish was 4 years old, I played Tamil (our native language) kids songs for him.

Tip 6 – Introduce native language in a play mode

Do not hesitate to offer a rich language experience that you possess to your child. You can also make the language fun by using simple words while playing with your child. It could be either playing with dolls, dinosaurs, trains, etc.

Tip 7 – Don’t make a big deal, converse casually in your native language

Introduce the language very casually, don’t emphasize too much about it to your child. Kids observe us and how we respond to any situation. If your child has anxiety hearing you talk in a different language, then casually explain to him/her, “oh, it’s ok, Mommy is just talking in a different/new language.”

Final Thoughts

Parents do not hesitate to teach your child your native language or a second language. There are many advantages. The child may or may not pick up any new words but no harm in trying.

The essential point is to sustain an environment of happiness around your native language.

Apply today – 7 easy yet powerful tips for teaching your child to be bilingual

Tip 1 – Subtitle your English sentences with your native language.

Tip 2 – Involve your family members.

Tip 3 – Encourage your extended family members and friends to interact in your native language with your child.

Tip 4 – Play music in your native language in the background always.

Tip 5 – Introduce your child to native language TV and Video shows.

Tip 6 – Introduce native language in a play mode.

Tip 7 – Don’t make a big deal, converse casually in your native language.

Do you have any experience in teaching bilingual to your child? Or are you speculating about teaching the native language to your child? Leave a comment below, and I would love to know your experience.


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