The Effect of Spanish VS. Non-Spanish Bilingual Exposure on Expressive Communication Scores for Toddlers with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Friday, May 16, 2014
Atrium Ballroom (Marriott Marquis Atlanta)
J. Berman1, B. Davis1, C. Klaiman2 and C. A. Saulnier1, (1)Marcus Autism Center, Children's Healthcare of Atlanta and Emory University School of Medicine, Atlanta, GA, (2)Marcus Autism Center, Children's Healthcare of Atlanta and Emory University, Atlanta, GA

Researchers have recently begun investigating the impact of bilingual vs. monolingual exposure on the expressive communication development of children with ASD. Most research has demonstrated a negligible difference in language development between the two groups (Valicenti-McDermott, et al, 2012; Hambly & Fombonne, 2011; Ohashi, et al, 2011), however some research has suggested that second-language exposure can be a predictor of lower expressive language scores among children with ASD (Chaidez, et al, 2012). As the percentage of bilingual speakers in the United States continues to rise, it is important to enhance our understanding of the effect of bilingual exposure on children with ASD, so that we may develop more informed recommendations to bilingual families on the benefits and drawbacks of multiple-language exposure.


This investigation builds off of the study by Chaidez and colleagues (2012), to investigate whether expressive language and non-verbal communication skills vary among bilingually-exposed toddlers with ASD, particularly depending on whether the second language in addition to English is Spanish or another language. As our dataset expands, we will compare communication skills among individuals who are bilingually-exposed to English and additional languages, including Asian and European languages.


Participants included a clinically-referred sample of 52 toddlers (40 males and 12 females) with a confirmed ASD diagnosis, consisting of 41 monolingually-exposed children and 11 children who are spoken to at least 10% in a secondary language in addition to English (8 in Spanish and 3 in another language). This is an ongoing study, and we expect to ascertain approximately 40 more English/Spanish bilingual toddlers and 20 English/other-language bilingual toddlers which will enable us to more effectively test across secondary language groups. The mean age for monolingual children was 23.63 months (SD=3.17) and the mean age for bilingual children was 23.27 months (SD=3.66). The measures used included a demographics questionnaire, the Mullen Scales of Early Learning, the Vineland Behavior Scales, 2nd Edition, Survey Form, and the Communication and Symbolic Behavior Scales (CSBS).


Consistent with prior research, no significant differences between bilingually- and monolingually-exposed children were found on the Mullen and Vineland expressive language subdomains [F(1,49)=.419, p=.520] and [F(1,50)=.454, p=.503], respectively. However, contrary to Valicenti-McDermott and colleagues (2012), we did not find a significant difference between bilingually- and monolingually-exposed children's utilization of gestures as recorded by the CSBS Gestures subscale [F(1,48)=.189, p=.666]. We also found no significant differences between the Spanish and non-Spanish language groups on the Mullen expressive language subdomain [F(2,48)=.271, p=.763], Vineland expressive language subdomain [F(2,49)=.227, p=.798], or CSBS Gestures subscale [F(2,47)=.095, p=.910].   


Preliminary results of this study supported the outcomes of previous studies, finding no significant difference in expressive language scores between children with ASD exposed to monolingual and bilingual environments. These preliminary findings may offer important information for intervention, as many families and professionals struggle with the best course of speech and language treatment for bilingual families. Further examination following the introduction of the additional data will be beneficial to determine any within-group differences on expressive communication measures among the bilingually exposed children.