Bilingual Development in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder from Newcomer Families

Killam Cornerstones Grant (Paradis [PI])

 There are many benefits of bilingual development for children from newcomer families who speak English as a second language (ESL). Nevertheless, parents of ESL children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) are often counselled to use just one language – English - due to beliefs that these children would struggle to become bilingual since ASD includes significant deficits in communicative abilities. Existing research on bilingualism in children with ASD is limited in terms of methodology and scope and there is a need for more robust evidence to inform us how best to support bilingual development in ESL children with ASD. The proposed research brings together existing data in the Language Acquisition Lab on typically developing ESL children with new data being collected from ESL children with ASD. Using parent interview questionnaires and direct language measures, this research will yield information about similarities and differences in home language use of newcomer families of children with and without ASD, and what the relationship is between home language use and children’s development of English and the native language. Findings will address whether supporting bilingual development is more challenging for families of children with ASD, whether ESL children with ASD are more at risk for losing their native language, and how ESL children with ASD compare with their typically developing peers in their development of English.