Interaction Behaviors of Bilingual Parents With Their Young Children With Autism Spectrum Disorder Academic Article uri icon


  • Given concerns that bilingual exposure might confuse children with disabilities-including autism spectrum disorder (ASD)-bilingual parents may restrict exposure to one language, often the community-dominant language. We investigated a potential consequence of this decision; the possibility that non-native language use might influence parental communicative behaviors during interaction with the child. We recruited 39 parent-child dyads, each with a young child with ASD (mostly boys) and parent/carer (mostly mothers). Parents were either monolingual speakers of community-dominant English (n = 20) or bilingual with English as the second language (n = 19). We confirmed our assumption that the latter group would have significantly poorer non-native English language via standardized assessment of expressive vocabulary, and ensured children were matched on age, ASD symptoms, and developmental level. We sampled parent-child interaction-including in each of bilinguals' native and non-native languages-and coded parents' amount and complexity of speech, communicative synchrony, and imitations and expansions of their child's speech. Few differences presented across bilingual parents' native versus non-native language samples, but this group showed reduced synchrony and use of expansions compared to monolinguals. Further, bilinguals' English-language knowledge was associated with self-reported comfort using this language and with two coded interaction measures. These empirical data only partially support qualitative accounts that non-native language use may influence bilingual parents' interaction behaviors with their young children. With growing rates of ASD diagnosis and increasing cultural/linguistic diversity around the world, further dedicated clinical and experimental attention to this issue is clearly warranted.

publication date

  • 2018