Rebecca Ward Swansea University Psychology Lecturer When Eriri Sanodaki, Senior Lecturer in Linguistics (Bilingualism), Bangor University
When parents find out their child has a developmental disability, they often have questions about what their child can and cannot do.
Children with developmental disorders such as Down syndrome often have problems and delays in language development. And for some families, one of these questions may be, “Is speaking two languages detrimental to development?”
However, research consistently shows that exposure to additional languages, including minority languages, does not adversely affect language outcomes. doing.
Many parents find it easier to speak one language than two. Some may find bilingualism too confusing for children with developmental disabilities. This is a belief sometimes held by teachers and clinicians who may be consulted about their views on bilingual exposure.
A pediatrician, speech therapist, teacher, or social worker may, in good faith, advise parents to avoid using traditional or minority languages at home.
Research also shows that children with disabilities may have fewer opportunities to access services in their second language.
However, bilingualism is possible for children with developmental disabilities, as our research on children learning both Welsh and English shows.
Children with access to bilingual provisions may also benefit. In fact, research shows that bilingualism can have a positive impact on the social interactions and identity formation of these children.
The number of Welsh-speaking children in Wales has declined by 1.2 percentage points from 19% in 2011 to 17.8% in 2021, according to the latest census data for England and Wales. The biggest decline was from her 5-year-old child to her 15-year-old. .
These latest figures are unexpected and disappointing, according to the Welsh government, but the age group with the highest percentage of Welsh speakers was also children between the ages of 5 and 15. This shows promising prospects for the future of Welsh.
Importantly, converging evidence indicates that bilingualism does not create additional difficulties or confusion for children learning multiple languages.
For example, if a parent does not speak Welsh, they may feel uncomfortable teaching in Welsh. Parents of children with autism and children with developmental disabilities may still have further reservations.
Again, research also shows that bilingualism causes no additional problems in these groups.This includes children with more complex and comorbid conditions.
Why Parents Should Accept Bilingualism
It turns out that parents don’t have to worry about these things when it comes to children with Down syndrome. In fact, our research shows that families should be open to being bilingual. Children with Down syndrome were recruited along with normal developmental children who had mastered only English or were exposed to both English and Welsh.
These children completed a variety of professional tasks to assess their cognitive and language abilities.
They found that Welsh-English bilingual children with Down syndrome had similar English proficiency in key language areas as children with Down syndrome exposed to only English.
On the other hand, bilingual children also developed additional language skills. Also, those who learned Welsh had similar proficiency in the language to younger children without Down syndrome who were at the same developmental level.
Therefore, children with Down syndrome should be supported to access educational provisions similar to those of developing children more generally. In the Welsh context, this could mean accessing a Welsh secondary school or being included in a second language class.
In Wales, parents can choose to have their children educated in Welsh, regardless of their native language. Children who receive a Welsh education will thrive if they are given a bilingual education.
A survey of typical bilingual children and adults suggests that being bilingual may have other benefits as well. These include better mental skills, creativity, and even the potential for protection against cognitive decline such as Alzheimer’s disease.
Being bilingual offers many opportunities, from increasing your chances of getting a job to helping you develop your social skills.
Some of these benefits, such as improved thinking skills, may also extend to children with autism, according to research.
By giving children the opportunity to develop their skills in two languages, they will be able to choose which language they use to communicate. You may also feel connected to the local community.
These findings challenge the view that bilingualism is detrimental to child development. In contrast, including children with developmental disabilities in bilingual provisions gives them the opportunity to flourish alongside their normally developing peers.
As a result, families should feel able to make informed decisions considering the opportunities that being bilingual may present.
This article was first published in The Conversation
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