Bilingualism as a natural remedy for children with autism
Autism spectrum disorders are one of the most common neurodevelopmental disorders affecting more than one in 100 children. It has a particular impact on social interactions, such as difficulty understanding perspectives, beliefs, desires and attitudes. emotions of others, known as theory of mind. Bilingual families with autistic children tend to refrain from using either of their native languages and are sometimes recommended so as not to further complicate the development of their child’s communication skills. Researchers from the University of Geneva (Uniger, Switzerland) are working with universities in Tessary (Greece) and Cambridge (Great Britain) to help children with autism to partially compensate for deficiencies in theory of mind and executive function. Has been shown. This underlies many of their challenges. These results can be read in the journal Autism research.
Diagnosed in early childhood Autism spectrum disorders It has a particular impact on the social and communication skills of the child. “Because it is a spectrum, the intensity of symptoms varies enormously,” explains Stéphanie Durrleman, researcher and co-author of the study at the Department of Linguistics, Faculty of Letters, UNIGE. “But with any child autism What they have in common is that it is difficult for them to stand in the position of an interlocutor, to focus on the latter point of view, and to divert their attention from their own point of view. ” Theory of Mind– Understand the beliefs, feelings, intentions and desires of others – but often Execution function, Including attention.
Can the benefits of bilingualism apply to children with autism?
Research on Bilingualism Children without autism who use multiple languages showed improved skills in theory of mind and executive function compared to children in just one language. “Therefore, bilingualism is exactly Autistic child “Therefore, bilingual autistic children wondered if the daily use of two languages could reduce the difficulty of neurodevelopmental disorders,” said Darman.
To test this hypothesis, researchers from the University of Geneva, the University of Thessaly and the University of Cambridge followed 103 autistic children aged 6 to 15 years. Forty-three of them were bilingual. “We grouped them by age, sex and degree of autism to observe the real impact of bilingualism on their ability to communicate,” explains Eleni Peristeri, researcher at the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Thessaly. I go. And co-author of the study. Participants performed various tasks to assess theory of mind and executive function skills. Bilinguals quickly distinguished themselves by obtaining higher scores than their unilingual companions. “For questions related to theory of mind, the ability to stand in one’s position and understand the behavior of others, 76% of bilingual children answered correctly, while 57% of unilingual children answered. “I did it,” said a Greek researcher. The same goes for executive functions. The correct bilingual score is twice that of a monolingual. But why is the difference so clear?
“In bilingualism, the child must first work on skills that are directly related to theory of mind, which means that the child must always be interested in knowing others. Is the person I’m talking to Greek? Is it Albanian? In what language should I speak? Then, in the second stage, the child focuses on one language, removes the second, and uses the run function. », Explains Peristeri. It is a real exercise for the brain which acts precisely on the disorders associated with autistic disorders.
Encourage bilingualism instead of giving up
“Our evaluation clearly shows that bilingualism is very beneficial for children with autism. Disability, “Durrleman is excited. This was also recorded to prove that the socio-economic level in which the participants grew up did not affect the results, and the bilingual children were mainly in a low socio-economic status. “Therefore, we can see that the advantages of theory of mind and executive function appear to be bilingual, even in the socio-economic disadvantages,” said a Geneva researcher.
These results are important for the management of children diagnosed with autism. “Of course, this neurodevelopmental disorder often affects language acquisition, so bilingual families tend to forgo using one of the two languages so as not to worsen the learning process. Autistic children Conversely, bilingualism can help them in difficult cases. Children It overcomes many aspects of the disorder and acts as a kind of natural remedy, ”concludes Darman.
Eleni Peristeri et al., Cognitive Benefits of Bilingualism in Autism Spectrum Disorders: What Factors Motivate Theory of Mind? Autism research (2021). DOI: 10.1002 / aur.2542
University of Geneva
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