Teaching your child multiple languages - or at least, more than one - won't just benefit them from a cultural point of view.
According to new research published today, that children with Autistic Spectrum Disorders (ASD) may have an easier time switching between tasks if they learn a second language. Published in Child Development, the study has found new reasons to believe that Autistic children who are bilingual have increased cognitive flexibility compared to children that are monolingual.
"This is a novel and surprising finding," says Prof. Aparna Nadig, the senior author of the paper, from the School of Communication Sciences and Disorders at McGill University.
“Over the past 15 years, there has been a significant debate in the field about where there is a ‘bilingual advantage’ in terms of executive functions.”
“Some researchers have argued convincingly that living as a bilingual person and having to switch languages unconsciously to respond to the linguistic context in which the communication is taking place increases cognitive flexibility.”
The significance of this study is tied to the fact that, previous research did not consider the effect bilingual ability had on autism - but this one does.
So, how did they reach this conclusion?
Comparing 40 children between the ages of six and nine, with or without ASD, and bilingual or monolingual, the study focused children who were able to shift from one task to another on computer-generated tests. The children were initially asked to sort a single object appearing on a computer screen by colour and were then asked to switch and sort the same objects by their shape.
The researchers found that bilingual children with ASD performed significantly better when it came to the more complex part of the task-shifting test compared to children with ASD who were unilingual.
"It is critical to have more sound evidence for families to use when making important educational and child-rearing decisions since they are often advised that exposing a child with ASD to more than one language will just worsen their language difficulties," the findings continued. This research believes the opposite to be true.
The outcome of this study has potentially far-reaching implications for the families of children with ASD, say the researchers.