Evaluating the Utility of Narratives in Assessing Language Abilities of Bilingual Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders
To date, there is sparse research on how children with ASD raised in bilingual environments develop language. The few studies that have explored this issue have primarily focused on young children (i.e., 1.5 – 5 years of age), with most results showing no significant delay or deviance in the early stages of language development (Ohashi et al., 2012; Valicenti et al., 2012). An additional concern is the use of standardized instruments in measuring language development in children, as these may underestimate the abilities of children from diverse backgrounds. Narratives have been identified as useful tools in the assessment of bilingual typically developing children (Bedore et al., 2010); however, to date there is no published research evaluating its utility in the assessment of children with ASD from diverse language backgrounds.
The current study aims to clarify how narratives can be used to measure language abilities of children from diverse language backgrounds.
Monolingual (English) and bilingual (English/Spanish) children with Autism Spectrum Disorders who were between 8 and 14 years of age were recruited to participate. Children were eligible to participate if they were verbal and had a nonverbal IQ of 70 or higher. Data collected thus far includes six monolingual and nine bilingual children. All children completed a standardized language assessment and two narratives in English (Frog, Where Are You?, Frog on his Own). Bilingual children also completed a standardized language assessment and two narratives in Spanish (Frog Goes to Dinner; One Frog Too Many). Parents of all children also completed a Language Background Questionnaire and the Social Communication Questionnaire.
Preliminary analyses on the age of early language milestones found no differences between bilingual and monolingual children on the age of babbling and single words; however, differences emerged in the development of short phrases and sentences with bilingual children reaching these milestones later than monolingual children (p’s < .05). A MANOVA was then conducted on the English-language narratives controlling for age. These findings showed that bilingual and monolingual children with ASD did not differ on the mean length of words per utterance (MLUw) or number of utterances containing grammatical errors (all p’s > .05). The only difference that emerged between groups was on the Type/Token ratio, with monolingual children exhibiting a greater lexical variety than bilingual children with ASD (p = .032).
The preliminary results indicate that although bilingual children with ASD had lower scores on a standardized language test than monolingual children with ASD, narratives may provide a more complete profile of language abilities in bilingual children with ASD. These results are relevant as diverse families often receive recommendations to maintain English-only households (Bird et al., 2012) and these recommendations often result in feelings of loss, decreased communication in the home, and isolation from their community (Garcia et al., 2012). These findings contribute to the growing literature on the development of two languages in children with ASD and provides a support for the utilization of narratives in the language assessments of children with ASD.