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Bilingualism in a SN child

(12 Posts)
alexpolismum Thu 16-Jun-11 15:39:06

Does anyone have any experience of bilingualism with a child who has communication problems?

My ds2 currently doesn't speak, but has just started to show signs of understanding a few words (he's nearly 18 months). Up till now he has ignored all spoken communication and not even responded to his own name. He has developmental delay and some other problems as yet not fully diagnosed. Anyway, he has finally shown signs of understanding words like 'drink', 'eat', 'mummy', 'daddy' and 'sleep'. He responds to these in both his languages (English and Greek). Obviously, it is still very early for him yet.

Anyway, I've just had an appointment with his paediatrician, who advised me to stop speaking to him in English, as it would be easier and best for him to concentrate on just one language. This contradicts everything else I've read about bilingualism, but I haven't been able to find research into SN children in bilingual families.

Just to clarify, ds2 is not expected by his neurologist to have lifelong problems with speech - he thinks this is one area where ds2 will eventually catch up

MIFLAW Thu 16-Jun-11 18:11:47

I have no experience of this sort of thing - but I HAVE heard before of paediatricians etc who, at the drop of a hat, will "diagnose" that the problem is related to bilingualism and that this must STOP immediately.

The advice I have seen is to ask the paediatrician for a reference to the RECENT academic research (s)he has read that makes him/her think that this is the problem. Apparently, in 99 cases out of 100 this is met with a blank look because they have read no such research - they just assume this is the problem because they themselves are monolingual and assume that two languages must be harder than one.

mousymouse Thu 16-Jun-11 18:16:27

he is only 18m, so if you are sure that he is hearing well and otherwise healthy, try not to worry.
my dc are bilingual, ds spoke is first words at 18m, dd at 12m. nothing (much) to do with bilingualism, more with the individual child.

peasandbeans Thu 16-Jun-11 18:49:14

I don't really have much experience, but I did once meet a young man with Down's syndrome who spoke French as well as he spoke English (bilingual family, English mother, French father living in France). Obviously it is difficult to predict how he would have fared if he had only had one language to master, but being able to communicate in both languages was clearly a great help to him.

I would say that if your son needs both languages (which presumably he does if he is not going to be cut off from your english speaking family?), then it is probably worth carrying on with both languages. He may well end up with one language stronger than the other, but I suspect that what he will gain in being able to enjoy both sides of the family will outweigh any possible (and temporary) slowness to speak.

Bandwitch Thu 16-Jun-11 19:00:28

If your child is non-verbal (at the moment) because he is on the spectrum, even mildly, as a parent of a boy who sounds similar to your son, I would recommend you concentrate on one language.

I think it's important for an autistic child to get into the habit of communicating verbally as soon as possible (if they're able for that). If he gets in to the habit of just listening that wouldn't be good for him in the long run. NOW, and only now that my son is five he is capable of earning a few words of Irish, but until very recently he wouldn't have been able for this at all. His speech was at one point 'severely delayed'.

My son's speech therapist thought at one point that I was intending to send him to a 'gaelscoil' (Irish language school). I wasn't, she had got the wrong end of the stick, but she was very relieved to find out she was wrong. She told me it was something she'd come up against in the past as a speech therapist. Parents who were determined to indulge their love of Irish and send their mildly autistic child to a gaelscoil. Her professional opinion was that that was a VERY bad idea for the child. She talks people out of similar plans. I know it's not exactly the same situation as those children would have stronger English and their education would just be harder for them, so I realise that it's not exactly the same. I just wouldn't want to challenge an autistic child any more than they will already be challenged.

Now that my son is five he has good speech, and it's not too obviously delayed, but I don't think he could ever achieve any level of fluency in another language. he is imo very mildly autistic. I hope that helps.

alexpolismum Fri 17-Jun-11 08:05:43

Thanks for all the replies.

MIFLAW - good idea to ask about their research references. This could be useful in lots of circumstances, I think.

mousymouse - it's not just a case of taking a while to speak. His older brother (my ds1) was 2 before he said a word, but he very clearly understood language long before he actually said anything himself. My ds2 has shown very little sign of understanding so far, and has only just started responding to his own name.

Bandwitch - that was interesting to read. Does your speech therapist deal with many autistic children? I haven't found anyone with multilingual experience yet, and obviously it's too early for a speech therapist for my son. May I ask how old your son was when you got a diagnosis of autism? My son has not yet been diagnosed, although all the doctors agree that there is a problem. The neurologist did say it could be mild autism, but he doesn't want to commit himself to that yet.

belgo Fri 17-Jun-11 08:14:24

I know a family who had to drop a language and concentrate on one language because the child was diagnosed with autism.

Bandwitch Fri 17-Jun-11 13:18:02

Yeah, she was linked in to a special pre-school team that prepares mildly autistic children for mainstream ed, so almost all the children she was dealing with were mildly autisitc. She wouldn't have spreadsheets or data or statistics! but it was something she had seen a few times during her career. Parents who had sadly prioritised a dream of their child being bi-lingual over her advice. Maybe they felt their child could cope. Maybe some can. It depends on the particular sn of course. Somebody mentions a boy with down syndrome speaking two languages and that I can believe. For most of us, if we're immersed in another language it's instinctive to pick it up. Autistic children struggle in particular with expressive language. They may be bi-liingual in their receptive language! in fact, they may have full receptive comprehension in two languages but no ability to verbally express in either.

I think with autistic children there is a window, at that pre-school age, where it is absolutely vital to encourage them to be verbal (if they are capable of that). I would wait until autism has been ruled out before you start working on bringing your son up to be bi-lingual. ~apologies if that sounds a bit blunt.

Bandwitch Fri 17-Jun-11 13:24:27

ps, my son was about two when the assessment process began. and just short of three when he was diagnosed.

He is five now and he will have to learn Irish at school because his autism is not severe enough to earn him an automatic exemption !!!!! BUT because for the last two years+, all the focus of all the work that's been done with him was to make him catch up, I believe he will be able to learn a smattering of irish.. He won't be a natural! he won't enjoy it. but he'll probably scrape by. The teacher has told me she will 'teach' him Irish but won't test him on it ect... they will be concentrating on English ! and they have my full support there.

alexpolismum Fri 17-Jun-11 15:02:02

thankyou for that, Bandwitch. I do try to encourage my son to be verbal, but at the moment he just makes random sounds, and not many of them. He is not being assessed for autism exactly, as it is too early, but he has regular appointments with the paediatric neurologist for his other problems, as he has hypotonia and other physical disabilities too, and of course the consultant has commented on the mental side of his development too, and referred him for hearing tests and other procedures. Perhaps I should just concentrate on one language with him then, although it will be a real shame for my side of the family, as obviously they don't speak Greek, and won't be able to talk to him. At least in Ireland Irish speakers also tend to speak English! I suppose we'll work something out.

Bandwitch Fri 17-Jun-11 16:21:50

yeah, I can totally appreciate that it's a different situation and your need for him to speak greek is more practical.

mousymouse Fri 17-Jun-11 16:43:51

sorry, I didn't read properly blush
but out of interest, if that is the general approach, are there studies available?

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