“By Sanika Natu, M.A Clinical Psychology”
A recent study published in the journal of Autism Research highlighted the positive effects of bilingualism in boosting the theory of mind, i.e. understanding the beliefs, emotions, intentions and desires of others as well as enhancing executive functioning in autistic individuals.
In a country like India, where bilingualism is the norm; the findings of this study offer a lot of hope for autistic individuals. With most children in India being familiar with more than one language – the implications of this research look promising.
The researchers studied 103 autistic children aged 7 to 15, 43 of whom were bilingual. They were tested on a nonverbal task of attentional switching, working memory and updating task, and an online, low-verbal first-order false belief task.
What were the results of the study?
The results of the study showed that bilingual children performed better in tasks relating to understanding another person’s behavior by putting themselves in their place as compared to monolinguals. It was also seen that bilingual children performed better on tasks like recalling and switching between information.
This study highlights the importance of encouraging autistic children to learn more than one language in order to enhance their cognitive functioning.
What are its implications in the Indian context?
Our children naturally grow up hearing or even speaking more than one language. The results of this study directly apply to a population like ours and present quite an optimistic perspective when it comes to bilingualism.
Since ASD affects language acquisition, it is often seen that bilingual children on the spectrum are encouraged to give up one language so that the learning process is not affected.
The study gives us a fresh outlook – that bilingualism can actually help autistic children with aspects of social communication and not hinder their learning or development in any way.
As a parent of an autistic child, it is quite normal to feel that learning or conversing with your child in two or more languages would be a burden on an already overwhelmed child. However, bilingualism just might prove to be an advantage rather than a setback of any kind.
Bilingualism can indeed be a powerful tool in enhancing skills relating to empathy and cognitive functioning.
Access the research article here – https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/aur.2542
“Sanika Natu has a Master’s degree in Clinical Psychology and has experience in working with children.
Sanika is passionate about destigmatizing mental health in India, and her work in that area includes a study on emotional empathy, resilience and mental well-being among young adults, besides writing articles for iSmartmoms.”