Friday, June 26, 2015

Should Your Autistic Child Learn a Second Language?

I know, I know this is a ridiculous post.  Or is it? The idea of our children being able to learn two languages simultaneously when they can barely speak one seems counter-intuitive. But considering that science has finally acknowledged that even non-verbal autistics are not only able to understand, but in so many cases are highly intelligent, does lend itself to the idea that not only could our children function, but maybe they could even thrive, in a dual-language environment.

I remember when MrGS was little, he was reading before the age of two. They now have a name for that and they call it hyperlexic. In fact, he was not only hyperlexic, but he understood what he was reading. Something that the first psychologist I engaged when he was three years old refused to acknowledge and chastised me that he wasn't reading, but only mimicking like a "monkey." She completely ignored that he was also writing and drawing his own stories into books. (Yeah, we didn't get along and that was our one and only visit with that dumbass.)

In the meantime having no idea that I was dealing with autism, and having noone to tell me I shouldn't, I decided to introduce him to Hebrew.  I had also received the Hebrew version of Sesame Street as a gift, which I was more than happy to play for him, over and over and over again. So by the time he was four, MrGS could also read Hebrew and sing the Cookie Monster song in Hebrew as well. I suspect that if he lived in a bi-lingual home he would have also spoken that language.

Just as an aside, if you asked MrGS to read Hebrew today he wouldn't even know where to begin. He decided post bar-mitzvah that he was done with all that and focused on other things. (You know the old saying, if you don't use it, you loose it. Well that definitely applies to a non-cradle language.) But his failure to use Hebrew  has more to do with the Holocaust, anger at God and associated religion, and not because he specifically wouldn't read Hebrew anymore. Of course, he tried his hand at Spanish in college, which ironically turned out to be somewhat of a disaster. Happily, the school allowed him to take sign language as his foreign language to complete that requirement in order to graduate.

Yet I wonder, considering the video below, if at some point being able to learn and immerse himself in more than one language at a very young age, helped MrGS in the long run. It's just a thought. Nothing specific. But an idea. Meanwhile, those of you who are looking for something to do over the summer and were wondering what new therapy you might add to your child's daily life, why not try a basic foreign language course.

Of course I wouldn't necessarily try a language with an entirely different alphabet. That is without a doubt a rather unusual thing MrGS was able to do. On the other hand, if you want to give Chinese, Russian, Greek or Arabic a shot, go ahead. Maybe it's part of your culture, so there is a huge connection to the language. Or as Jung postulated, humans have a kind of genetic memory involved in nature and intellect, so learning one of these languages, that is so different than your primary language, will not be as difficult as you may think.

On the other hand, how about a fun program in Spanish or Italian? Spanish is great because they even have children's Spanish language programming on American TV. It might be enjoyable for them to see Sesame Street in Spanish. And since Spanish is spoken widely throughout the US (and yes I know many of you who read my blog do not live in the US) it might not be a bad thing to learn Spanish in order for our children to have something in common with their new neighbors.

Personally I think Italian is fun because all children love pasta. Yes, I know pasta originated in China and was brought back to Italy by Marco Polo. Except now historians are saying that that never happened.(And no I am not being difficult, however, perhaps as usual I am being politically incorrect.) Remember a child should have a tactile connection to learning a new language and  I am not certain many young children would be caught up with the history of the Renaissance, the art and history of Florence, or Rome and the uniqueness of the city of Venice, in order to entice them to learn Italian. So pasta (unless your child has recently visited the Vatican) could be the connector.

Meanwhile watch this interesting video from TED. You never know. We try every therapy they throw at our kids. Maybe something that the vast majority of people do worldwide, could actually help.

From TED

Additional Resources for you to Explore
Amazed by what you have learned about having a bilingual brain? Then, start learning another language now! This website has tons of free lessons, games and quizzes to get you started! Pick one language or even two languages and get that gray matter growing.

Speaking more than one language is like exercise for the brain? Read Radiolab blogger Chris Berube discusses the advantages of speaking multiple languages in his post “Mapping the Bilingual Brain” Want to know some more of the advantages of having a bilingual brain? Visit bilingualism expert Francois Grosjean’s comprehensive website and investigates numerous aspects of multilingualism! Delaying dementia is a possibility? NPR’s New Study Shows Brain Benefits Of Bilingualism and how it may delay the onset of dementia! also has more bilingual brain facts for you to check out! Finally, watch Bilingual Brains Are Better!

Love all this brain talk? Go to TED Ed and search BRAIN and start exercising those neurons and glial cells.

Want to learn another language (or two or three or...)? There's an app for that! Duolingo lets your learn dozens of languages for free right on your phone.