Bilingual Children With Special Education Needs and Disability

Helpful hints for working with bilingual children who also have speech, language and communication needs

Reasons why the child may be having difficulties with language

  • Limited experience of English
  • Undiagnosed hearing difficulties
  • Limited opportunities for play and language use
  • Developmental delay or disordered language development
  • Medical problems
  • Environmental factors. For example, trauma, housing conditions
  • Learning difficulties

Steps to take before referring to Speech and Language Therapy

  • Listen to the parent or carer's concerns
  • Accurately measure the child's progress against their initial assessment
  • Ensure that you have the right support mechanisms in place
  • Consider the factors above and refer to appropriate services. For example, audiology.

Strategies to help

  • Use gestures, facial expressions, and body language to support your verbal message.
  • Keep your language simple and instructions short.
  • Only talk about the here and now and not the past or future.
  • Keep repeating new words so the child gets used to hearing them.
  • Get down to the child’s level, so that they can see your face and see that you are listening.
  • Consider small group work for the child, targeting specific vocabulary and speech activities. 

Supporting Bilingual Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Bilingual children with autism do not experience additional delays in language development and can manage vocabulary in more than one language.

Using two or more languages with a child with autism spectrum disorder actually helps to develop their social skills.

Bilingual autistic children tend to use more gestures to communicate than those only exposed to a single language.

Even if a child is non-verbal, they should have the opportunity to learn other languages spoken at home.

Strategies to help

  • Use the child's name to gain their attention.
  • Simplify your language and keep sentences short and to the point
  • Use the 10 second rule to allow children additional time to process what you have said and respond.
  • Use visual aids to support the child's understanding.
  • Model speech back to the child and expand on what they have said.