Usually, parents of children with autism are advised to only introduce them to one language in the developing years. However, research has now proven that bilingualism, in fact, provides a natural therapy to autistic children when it comes to improving their communication and social skills.
The study on the topic was jointly conducted by researchers at the University of Geneva (UNIGE) in Switzerland, University of Thessaly in Greece, and University of Cambridge in Great Britain. Its findings were recently published in the journal Autism Research. The conclusion they draw is that being bilingual can help ease the difficulty that children with autism face in understanding other people.
The research consisted of 103 autistic children aged between 6 and 15, of whom 43 were bilingual. They were then grouped based on age, gender, and severity of the condition. All participants then went through a series of tests to assess their linguistic abilities and ability to understand and interpret what was communicated to them.
“On tasks relating to theory of mind, i.e., their ability to understand another person’s behaviour by putting themselves in their place, the bilingual children gave 76% correct answers, compared with 57% for the monolingual children,” informed co-author of the study Eleni Peristeri, researcher at the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Thessaly.
“Bilingual families tend to give up the use of one of the two languages, so as not to exacerbate the learning process. However, it is now clear that far from putting autistic children in difficulty bilingualism can, on the contrary, help these children to overcome several aspects of their disorder, serving as a kind of natural therapy,” concluded lead researcher Stéphanie Durrleman from the Department of Linguistics at the UNIGE Faculty of Arts.