According to WHO, 1 in 100 children have autism. Whilst exact numbers can vary depending on who’s reporting them, where in the world you live, and how autism is defined, this developmental disability is certainly not uncommon. In fact, in many places, the number of people living with autism is increasing. Autism is a spectrum which means that it’s different for everybody. It affects how people relate to others, how they make sense of the world around them, and how they communicate. And it’s likely these problems with communication that raise questions about bilingualism in autistic children. Should you raise an autistic child with more than one language? Can autistic children who don’t speak very much or at all become bilingual? What effect does being autistic have on a child’s language development and is this any different for bilingual children? Researcher Philippe Prévost tells us about this emerging field of research. He tells us that whilst there’s a lot that we still don’t know about autistic children growing up bilingually, there’s no reason to believe that autistic children cannot be raised with more than one language.  

Philippe Prévost is Professor of Linguistics at University of Tours in France, and one of the few researchers working on the topic of bilingualism and autism. His research focuses on how different groups of bilingual children learn how to put sentences together, including children with Autism Spectrum Disorder and / or Developmental Language Disorder. To find out more about Developmental Language Disorder, listen to the previous episode of Kletsheads on ‘How do you know if a bilingual child has a language delay?’.   To find out more about bilingualism and autism, including hearing an autistic bilingual adult’s lived experience, listen to this episode of the podcast Much Language, Such Talk.  

Our Kletshead of the week is the 30-year-old Gema Garcia from New York. Gema grew up in an Ecuadorian family learning Spanish and English, and she tells us how she uses both languages professionally as an aspiring translator. During our conversation, Gema talked about an essay she wrote, first in Spanish and then translated into English, about her coming out experience. Curious to take a look? You can access the essay here (p. 82 in Spanish and p. 86 in English). Find Gema on insta @fernanda.ecu.  

This episode’s Quick & Easy is to have that conversation you’ve been meaning to have with your partner, parents or friends, colleague or child and to talk to them about that one topic that’s been bothering you for ages and make sure you can move forward together.

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