Picking a Language to Teach to Children with Autism | Language and Bilingual Families

Picking a Language to Teach to Children with Autism | Language and Bilingual Families

Hi, I’m Dr. Mary Barbera, Autism Mom and Board
Certified Behavior Analyst. Many of you have seen my videos of Chino who
I worked with around 2010 I believe when he was just 20 or 21 months old. He made amazing progress and he is now in
early elementary school with little support and he is fully conversational, in fact he
is bilingual, Spanish and English as this is what his family speaks. So when I started with Chino when he was just
20 months old the family had an older child who was just a year or two older than Chino. And they had planned to raise their family
in a bilingual home. And so they were asking me what we should
do about this bilingual desire and Chino really only had popped out a few words and very few
skills to speak of. I didn’t have a lot of experience back then
with how to teach bilingual families and how to select one or more languages but I was
pretty sure that we should stick with English because all of his early intervention providers
were speaking English, they were coming into the home. The other important part is that when Chino
went to preschool and to school he would be speaking English at school. And so I was pretty sure that we should stick
with English, at least in the beginning. And we should pair the words in English and
if they wanted to speak in Spanish to their older daughter, you know, in full sentences,
he wasn’t really going to pick any of that up anyway. So that we were speaking to Chino in very
one word, two word utterances. So instead of saying “Chino let’s go up the
stairs and brush your teeth and get ready for bed.” in English or Spanish we would be
saying “Up, up, up, up” as we were climbing the stairs. And these are the techniques that really brought
Chino’s language up. Since starting my online courses in 2015 which
has already served people from 45 different countries, both professionals and parents,
there are a lot more families asking questions about bilingual, how to teach bilingual kids,
especially early one. So I know that in general research supports
that kids can learn two or more languages very early on but when you have a child with
severe language delays and disabilities and autism, it is different in my experience. My experience is that we need to pick one
language and that language in my opinion should be the language where they’re going to be
taught in school because that is the language that they’re going to have the most exposure
to and the therapists will, you’ll be able to find therapists in that language a little
bit easier as well. For higher language kids, I know we have one
member who started with my procedures very early on when I first wrote my book, she’s
in Switzerland and there are three languages that her family and community speak. She was on a call a few years ago with me
and Dr. Mark Sundberg and she was asking questions about three languages and that her son who
was fully conversational and pretty indistinguishable from his peers was better at one the languages
and the other two languages were a little, he was a little less competent. I suggested that she’d do three different
VB map assessments for the three different languages. And then should be able to see which areas
within each language needed to be caught up. So this has worked well for families and I
do believe that obviously more research is needed but in the meantime I think from my
practice with hundreds of children over the past two decades that I would stick with one
language and then as the child develops language you can teach him the second or third language
hopefully. And if they become fully conversational like
Chino, they’ll become bilingual at the same time or near the same time and I think that
will happen more naturally than trying to teach two languages early on. Hope you found this interesting, leave me
a comment on marybarbera.com and I’ll see you next week!

3 comments / Add your comment below

  1. Thanks a lot mam. I was also confused for selecting medium in preschool as being Gujarati we have 2 streams in school- Gujarati and English. But now i can determine that Gujarati medium is best for my 2.5 year old mild autistic child who have language delay.. thanks again

  2. I respectfully disagree about sticking to one language. My son was diagnosed by Kennedy Kreiger at the age of three and we were told the same thing, to stick with English. My wife and I are bilingual with English being our stronger language, but we decided to teach our son Spanish to continue our culture tradition. We had already started to teach our son Spanish as an infant and couldn't allow ourselves to just stop and ignore teaching Spanish as it would leave my child at a huge cultural and family disadvantage in the future. In the US, most therapist are English speakers, and we couldn't find many who spoke Spanish. So we decided to give him therapy in English and when possible from time to time he would get some in Spanish (depending on availability of therapist). My wife and I would take turns sit in on every session. We would take lessons learned and reinforce them at home in Spanish. My son started to pick up English fast from all the therapy he got in Speech, OT, and ABA. He was accepted to infants and tots from our County school where he picked up more English. My wife and I would then reinforce everything back in Spanish.

    Im not a Professional, but as a parent what we found what works is routine. He had many issues early on just speaking two or more words. We got an early diagnosis and where able to get therapy early on and commit to setting up an environment of routine (Therapy and school in mostly English, Home we would repeat/replay our his therapy Spanish) It took some time, but one day it's like a light bulb went on in his head. He started to pick up both languages quickly. He is 6 years old now and speaks both language. He is stronger in Spanish than in English at the moment, but speaks in full sentences in both languages and can easily switch form one to another. I feel there are other social benefits as he has become a very social kid. He still has speech issues which we are addressing in IEP and private therapy, but nevertheless he's making progress.

  3. Hi Mary,
    I am also a professional that works with children with Autism. Like Chris, I would have to respectfully disagree about sticking to one language. As you mentioned there is a lot of research supporting children (developmentally disabilities or not) are able to learn more than one language. You mentioned a reason for primarily sticking to English was due to his providers in English or school. I think something to think about is their cultural or social needs as well. If a child goes to a party or event that most of the participants speak Spanish, the child can also participate as well in Spanish speaking environments. Being able to participate in their community is also important for that child. If a provider is unable to provide therapy or services in their home language, I think providing parent education and teaching parents how to support their language development in their home language would be key for those students. There are a lot of advantages to being bilingual, both for those with developmental disabilities or neurotypical. There is also research that demonstrates greater success in the second language if the concepts are learned in their home or primarily language first.

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