The impact of autism on the heritage language of Spanish-English bilingual children

  • Author / Creator
    Hernández, Keren J.
  • RESEARCH PROBLEM: Research on bilingualism and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is limited. Existing studies have focused on children’s second language (L2) development and little attention has been given to heritage language (HL) development. This thesis responds to the question, “does an autism diagnosis jeopardize an HL?” The goal of this thesis is to determine patterns of dual-language acquisition for three school-aged children with ASD living in a minority language (HL; Spanish) home within majority language (L2; English) communities (Alberta, Canada). METHODS: Three Spanish-English bilingual children with high-functioning ASD, between the ages of 6 to 9 (with 60 to 77 months of English exposure), from homes with high socio-economic status (SES), were examined for a variety of factors including parent attitudes toward bilingualism, language input and output, overall language dominance, and HL maintenance patterns across lexical, morphosyntax, and narrative macrostructure domains. RESULTS: Family attitudes were generally positive toward bilingualism and parents aimed to maintain the HL. Family-members, overall, provided more HL than L2 input to the children, while children exhibited more HL output directed toward parents than to siblings. Environmental factors corresponded to HL preservation across linguistic domains even though children demonstrated overall language dominance in the L2. HL abilities, however, differed across linguistic domains. Children did not exhibit significant deficits in lexical skills and narrative macrostructure abilities in the HL; in contrast, they did demonstrate deficits in HL morphosyntax. Additionally, when comparing children’s L2 performance to typically developing monolinguals, deficits in the morphosyntax domain were also revealed. CONCLUSION: In the 3 children examined, an ASD diagnosis did not jeopardize the HL. However, despite parents’ best efforts to maintain the HL, children’s HL skills remain weaker than their L2 proficiency, especially in the morphosyntax domain. Thus, children with ASD may still be at risk of HL attrition. Results indicated that higher HL skills correlated with more opportunities to listen and practice the HL in the home and community. Findings also demonstrated that morphosyntax abilities in bilingual children with ASD require future attention by researchers and clinicians to help inform parents on how best to support dual-language development in children with ASD.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
    Spring 2018
  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Master of Science
  • DOI
  • License
    This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for non-commercial purposes. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.
  • Language
  • Institution
    University of Alberta
  • Degree level
  • Department
  • Supervisor / co-supervisor and their department(s)
  • Examining committee members and their departments
    • Archer, Stephanie (Linguistics)
    • Charest, Monique (Communication Sciences and Disorders)