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Bilingualism and language functioning in young children with autism

Grant Winners

  • Nurit Sheinberg, Ed.D.
  • Barbara Garcia-Lavin, Ph.D.
  • Rachel Williams, Ph.D.
  • Maribel Del Rio-Roberts, Psy.D.
  • Susan Kabot, Ed.D., CCC-SLP
  • James Pann, Ph.D.


  • Roni Leiderman, Ph.D.


Award Winners

Autism is a pervasive developmental disorder characterized by difficulties in social interaction, impairments in communication, and a restricted repertoire of interest and activities. Current estimates by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggest the prevalence of Autism to be one out of 150 children. However, presently there is a lack of information on the implications of being exposed to more than one language, especially when English is not the first language, and autism. The process of learning a second language includes the use of complex strategies and this might pose significant constraints to the ability of children who have severe developmental disorders to learn a second language. Many language minority families struggle with the decisions of what language to use with their children and professionals currently do not have empirical evidence to give suggestions. The goal of this study is to begin an exploration of the impact exposure to a dual langue environment has on the language development of preschool age children with autism. Twenty-five Spanish-English bilingual families with a preschool-age child with a diagnosis of autism attending the Baudhuin Preschool will participate in the study. Parents will receive a questionnaire that will assess their home language use and preferences, and attitudes regarding bilingualism. Children's communication skills, including their vocabulary and functional use of language in English and Spanish, will be assessed using standardized language instruments, by parents and teacher report, and through obtaining language samples at home and at school. Descriptive analyses of the home language environments and language use of bilingual preschool children diagnosed with autism will be conducted followed by exploring the relationships between home language environment and children's expressive and receptive communication skills in English and Spanish. The results of this study can have important intervention and educational implications for this group of children.

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