Bilingualism in kids with developmental disabilities

The Journal of Communication Disorders is putting out a special issue dedicated to bilingualismThis article offers a look into findings from these studies, spanning several different countries and research teams. They found that children with developmental disabilities like Specific Language Impairment (SLI), Down Syndrome (DS), and Autism Spectrum Disorders (DS) are quite capable of becoming bilinguals, whether exposed to two languages at birth or a second language (L2) later on. Also:

  • Bilingual children with SLI require regular, frequent input in both languages to demonstrate equivalent linguistic skills to monolingual children with SLI.
  • Language intervention has been shown to be beneficial for the language treated for children with SLI, with only some benefit crosslinguistically.
  • Children with developmental disabilities are less likely to participate in bilingual education programs, particularly if their impairment is more severe.
  • Children who speak a minority L1 are spending more time being educated in the majority L2 than professionals think they should be.
  • Children with disabilities who speak a minority L1 are being assessed and treated in the majority L2 more than professionals think they should be.

The authors further suggest that, even though we’re used to looking at the individual child in special education, at times it’s necessary to consider what’s best for all children in order to effect widespread programmatic change. The authors write, “Bilingualism is the norm rather than the exception globally; children with DD (developmental disabilities) should have opportunities to become bilingual and participate in a multilingual world as do their peers with typical development.”

See: Kay-Raining Bird, E., Trudeau, N., Sutton, A. (2016). Pulling it all together: the road to lasting bilingualism for children with developmental disabilities. Journal of Communication Disoders. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1016/j.jcomdis.2016.07.005.