Help! Does He Have Language Delay, Autism or Neither?

by expert · 35 comments

It can happen that our multilingual child is given a diagnosis which we fear is not taking into account the specifics of our linguistic landscape.  It may leave us feeling helpless and confused, to say the least.  We often are not sure whether we should get a second opinion or accept the diagnosis without question.

Multilingual Living’s resident expert, Madalena Cruz-Ferreira, answers the following question about the diagnosis of Autism for a 2-year old multilingual.  Could language delay be the problem?  Or perhaps it is best to get a second opinion?

I tutor English to an Italian woman who has a 23 month old. While she speaks Italian to her son, her husband speaks English. The child doesn’t say more than five words in either language. Recently because of the concerns of a play group teacher, a language therapist has been asked to give the child therapy weekly (she has no experience with bilingual families). This therapist is making it sound as if the child should be tested for autism.  Are there similar incidences you can direct me to?  I don’t think the child is autistic, I think his language is delayed because he is learning two languages at once, but then I am neither a speech therapist nor am I qualified to diagnose autism….please help me bring some peace to this woman…thank you.


Madalena’s Answer:
Dear Sandra,

The child you speak of has a total vocabulary of about 10 words. This is how vocabulary is counted for multilinguals, for the simple reason that they are not monolinguals.  And 10 words is within the normal range for a child not yet 2 years old.

Your statement that the child’s language “is delayed because he is learning two languages at once” lacks support. There is no known correlation between multilingualism and language delay, which means that there cannot be any causal relationship between multilingualism and language delay. For comparison, one of my children, also raised multilingually, had three words altogether, two in one language and one in another, when she turned 2. She’s 21 today and doing fine in all of her three languages, including academically.

Autism is a serious diagnosis, and I am concerned at the possible rashness with which it sound like it may have been suggested here.  What are the typical symptoms of Autism that this child presents with, and that differ from typical development in a multilingual 2-year-old?

Please note that Autism has nothing whatsoever to do with multilingualism, because autism is not a language disorder and because multilingualism is not the cause of any disorder, linguistic or otherwise.

If the parents are concerned, which they no doubt will be if their child has been labeled both as possibly delayed and possibly autistic, neither of which can be attributed to the use of more than one language in their family, I have three suggestions:

First, that they consider seeking a second opinion from a therapist who has experience with multilingual children, who is multilingual herself or, preferably, both.

Second, that they attempt to educate the play group teacher about multilingualism.

My third suggestion is that the parents contact me privately, if they wish to discuss my response in greater detail.


Have a question for Madalena? CLICK HERE to send it to us !

Madalena Cruz-Ferreira, PhD, University of Manchester, UK, is a multilingual parent, educator and scholar, and the author of Multilinguals are...?, a book on myths and misconceptions about multilingualism. Her blog Being Multilingual deals with multilingualism at home, in school and in clinic. Her contact, and details on her work, are at:

Disclaimer: This post and the comments provided below have been provided for informational and entertainment purposes only and is not intended to replace or substitute for any professional financial, medical, legal, or other advice. This post has been published with the full consent of the author. The author has agreed to Madalena Cruz-Ferreira answering the Ask Madalena question publicly as well as readers leaving comments in the comment section below. Multilingual Living makes no representations or warranties and expressly disclaims any and all liability concerning any treatment or action by any person following the information offered or provided within or through this and any other information on this website. If you have specific concerns or a situation in which you require professional or medical advice, you should consult with an appropriately trained and qualified specialist. Please read our Terms of Use for more detail or contact us with any questions.

{ 35 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Christiane Williams May 26, 2010 at 7:17 am

There is no correlation between cognitive language delay caused by Autism and language delay due to bilingualism (which is not a proven fact anyway, if you look at TOTAL vocabulary and comprehension, rather than just one language output).
I have an 8 year old with Asperger’s and he had a slight language delay due to his Autism. Many people told me to stop the second language, since it was obviously harming his development. I didn’t listed and did my own research. I found nothing to support their threats.
My continued faith in bilingual education even with a child on the Autism spectrum was justified, when he finally learned to answer the question “Why?” in English and German within a week. It had been a cognitive issue, not a linguistic one. Once he understood the concept, he could do it in both languages.

Today, he is a vocabulary machine, adding French to German and English. While he might not be the best in conversation, he is unbeatable in ad-hoc translation. This is a positive side effect of his Asperger’s, but would not have happened, if he hadn’t been raised bilingually.


2 Kathy Krikorian May 26, 2010 at 3:45 pm

I am a bilingual speech therapist raising 2 bilingual children (ages 3 and 13) and I work with many children who have Autism. I am very concerned with Ms. Cruz-Ferreira’s response to Sandra for several reasons:
1) Word count is not the sole factor in diagnosing Autism. There are important behavioral and non-verbal indicators (for instance, eye contact) that are present in children with Autism regardless of language or number of words used.
2) Speech therapists, whether multilingual or not, receive extensive training in recognizing all the indicators – including the behavioral/nonverbal ones – associated with Autism. If a speech therapist, whether monolingual or not, is concerned that she may be seeing Autistic behaviors, it is crucial for this family to seek a comprehensive assessment as soon as possible. By federal law, these are available for free in all 50 states. All of the research that has been done regarding Autism suggests that early intervention is very important to insure the best possible prognosis for a child with Autism.

3. In many of the posts I have read, a parent raising multilingual parents give some version of this advice: “My son/daughter was just like that [whatever the worried parent is describing] and now he/she is fine.” This is offered with good intentions but can have adverse effects; bilingual children are not more prone to language disorder than other children, but they are not any less prone either. If a parent is concerned, the best thing to do is get it checked out. As I say, in the US it’s free. Developmental screenings are completely non-invasive.


3 Inma June 6, 2010 at 1:42 pm

Hi, I do completely agree with you.
I assess children with social and communication difficulties, some of them bilingual. We don’t just look at how many words the child has but we look at the 3 main areas (triad of impairments): social communication, social interaction and social imagination.


4 Corey May 26, 2010 at 5:33 pm

Christiane – thank you for your response! It is wonderful to have feedback from a parent who has first-hand experience!


5 Corey May 26, 2010 at 5:56 pm

Kathy – I very much appreciate your comment! This issue is clearly very near and dear to your heart!
I’ll let Madalena respond herself but wanted to emphasize that I do not believe that she was saying that the child does NOT have Autism. It could very well be that this child does have Autism and if so, as with Christiane’s response above, it would be important that the speech therapist understand how multilingualism can continue to take place despite such an assessment. As I understood Madalena’s answer, she is primarily saying that (1) language delay and Autism are not related, (2) language delay and multilingualism has not been proven, (3) it is important that we all understand how “number of words” is counted for multilingual children, and (4) it would be very beneficial if the parents can find a speech therapist who also has experience with bilingualism. I am certain that Madalena will agree with you that proper assessment is essential! Unfortunately, many families find that the first thing many (by no means all!) therapists encourage is to stop the bilingualism/multilingualism as they feel it “adds to the problem.” It is one thing for another parent to say this but when our therapist encourage this, it can be very frightening (as I’m sure you already know!), especially since we start to think that we may have caused the problem by raising our children bi/multilingually!
I would love to hear more from from you regarding your personal experiences as a bilingual speech therapist raising bilingual children and to learn more about bilingual speech therapy in general! Do you know what kind of training speech therapists receive during their education with respect to bi/multilingualism?


6 Madalena Cruz-Ferreira May 27, 2010 at 4:58 am

Thank you for your feedback, Kathy. Thanks to Corey too, I hope her comments have assuaged your concern about my answer to Sandra.
My point is the assumed association of multilingualism with disorders of various kinds, and the related assumption that multilingualism causes disorder. Christiane’s post in this thread reports an example of this.
To the best of my knowledge, the professional training of speech-language pathologists does not include training in languages other than the language of instruction, or in multilingualism itself. I also understand that speech-language assessment instruments are designed and normed from and for monolingual uses of language, which makes it understandably difficult for a clinician to distinguish speech-language impairment from multilingual normality. Please correct me on all counts, Kathy, if I am wrong.
I would be interested in hearing your thoughts on a study and review of multilingual speech-language assessment in multilingual clinics that I carried out with a colleague. We draw on data from Singapore, where I live, a country with four co-official languages and where individual multilingualism is the norm. The reference is:
Cruz-Ferreira, M. and B.C. Ng (2010). Assessing multilingual children in multilingual clinics. Insights from Singapore. In Cruz-Ferreira, M., Ed. Multilingual Norms. Frankfurt, Peter Lang: 343-396. (Book URL: here )
I’d be happy to send you a copy of the chapter, if you so wish. My email address is found in my academic website, as above.
I would also be happy to learn more about assessment practices for multilingual populations, in this thread. Or, with Corey’s permission, perhaps a new thread on speech-language assessment for multilingual children could be started.


7 Alice Lapuerta May 27, 2010 at 8:31 am

What a fabulous discussion!! Madalena, I think you hit the nail on the head by pointing out that the issue at heart lies with defining “multilingual normality” – How on earth are we parents to tell whether our children’s language development is normal for a multilingual, often having no basis of comparison? It can be a really confounding and frustrating situation for a parent, even when we consult experts . From our personal experiences several years ago with speech therapists and ergotherapists, and our long voyage to the realization that our trilingual daughter’s speech development is completely normal after all, thank you very much – I can only echo the supreme (!) importance of finding an expert/therapist who is knowledgeable in multilingualism.
I also read the central issue in the question above as being one asking whether Multilingualism could possibly be the cause of autism, speech delay, hereditary disorders and purple mushrooms in your ears. Because, sadly, we DO keep encountering “experts” who tell us precisely that.

So, Corey, since you keep asking what we readers would like to read on your website: more about this kind of stuff! Madalena, I would love to read more about “multilingual normality” and how we parents of multilingual children are to count words the” right” way. Thank you to the both of you for your wonderful advice and input!


8 Kathy Krikorian May 27, 2010 at 1:21 pm

Hi Corey and Magdalena:

Thank you both for making such thoughtful responses to my post. A couple clarifications:
1) Corey, you said that “language delay and Autism are not related.” In fact, some sort of language challenge, whether with global expressive and receptive language or social language, is an integral part of an Autism diagnosis. In most cases, Autism and language challenges co-occur.
2) You are correct that there is absolutely no evidence that multilingualism in any way causes language disorders. That is 100% correct.

3) Having said that, if a person choses to raise a child with a language disorder multiculturally, there are some important considerations:

a) whereas it is a good idea to have consistent language-switching rules for all multicultural children, it is absolutely crucial for children with language delay. They have trouble absorbing language (any language) and it needs to be crystal clear to them what language they can be expected to produce in what setting.

b) whereas the quality of language input is important for all children (vocabulary being the #1 predictor of reading skills and all that) it is absolutely critical for multilingual children with language delay. Parents of these children should go out of their way to expose them to repeated and rich language experiences – in all languages – at a level they can understand.

c) whereas it’s not a great idea (in my view) to mix languages in a single utterance, as in “Pass my ‘el agua’, please”, it is crucial not to do so with multilingual children challenged by language learning delays. Again, their brains are not learning language – any language – easily. Adults need to separate the languages to highlight the fact that there are different language systems with different sets of rules.

This is not an exhaustive list of the considerations, just a sample. The point is that raising a child with language delay multilingually is a perfectly feisable enterprise. There will need to be an additional level of intentionality behind it, though.

4) Most of the research I have seen suggests that speech and language disorders exist in roughly the same percentage of the population regardless of language, culture or country. It seems to be a brain-based difficulty that some people are born with, similar to the phenomenon by which some people aren’t skilled with numbers or don’t have the precise motor control to play sports well.

5) You are also correct that we need to know more about what appropriate “word counts” look like for multilingual children.

6) In terms of the amount of training speech therapists receive around multilingualism, this has increased exponentially in this country in the last 20 years or so; Canadians and European programs are even better at this and started it sooner. In the US, it also varies by region. Not surprisingly, the universities where there are very high Spanish-speaking populations (Texas, New Mexico and California) tend to excel in this area. In other words, in the US, the level of information a speech therapist has on multilingualism probably depends on where and when they trained. I would not say, however, that it is currently the norm for a speech-language graduate student to get absolutely no training whatsoever on multilingualism.

7) In terms of tests: in the U.S., there are often tests available in the most frequently occuring languages. English tests are normed on monolingual English-speakers, as you point out. Really, though, to do a good multilingual assessment it’s the non-standardized evaluations that can be most telling. For instance, since a language disorder – by definition – exists across languages it’s really important to query family members about what the child sound like in the other language or langauges they speak. Even if they can’t make a clinical judgement, they can often tell you “she sounds different (or the same) as her siblings (or playmates).”

8) Finally (yes, I’m about to finish!) I want to emphasize that speech therapists are trained in broad developmental norms. Sometimes speech or language issues exist in isolation, but many times they do not. In other words, its not all about the “word count.” When I walk into a room to assess or treat a child, I’m looking at the whole picture: motor, social, cognitive, emotional and communication. And, although my specialty is communication, I am trained to recognize the possibility of other problems in a general sense. This is especially true in the case of Autism and that is why I came to my (anonymous) collegue’s defense. I would bet my last dollar that she saw something in that child that has nothing to do with “word count”.

Parents are understandably eager to hear that there is nothing wrong with their little one. From that perspective, it would be easy for a parent to read the original post and give themselves permission not to follow up on the speech therapist’s concern. If the child actually does have a disability, they would have lost an invaluable opportunity for early intervention and an improved prognosis.

Again, thank you for your thoughtfulness in responding. We all care about multilingual families a lot!


9 Madalena Cruz-Ferreira May 27, 2010 at 9:48 pm

Alice, you wrote (my numbering):
:: I would love to read more about (1) “multilingual normality” and (2) how we parents of multilingual children are to count words the” right” way. ::

(1) We know virtually nothing about multilingual normality, because the overwhelming majority of research on multilingualism draws on norms that are monolingual and compares multilinguals to monolinguals, never the other way around. That is, multilingual behaviour is matched to monolingual norms, which is about as illuminating as expecting monolinguals to behave multilingually. The little we know is as expected: developmental and linguistic milestones are within the norms for multilingual and monolingual children alike.
Besides the chapter authors in the book that I recently edited, mentioned in my previous post, I know of one researcher and speech-language therapist, Sean Pert, who has published on multilingual norms. He is based in the UK, and his website lists publications and abstracts:
He found, for example, that patterns of codeswitching (one type of language mixing) observed in typically developing multilingual children may guide the identification of SLI (Specific Language Impairment) in atypical child multilingualism. In other words, his research also tells us that mixing and patterns of mixing are normal multilingual behaviour.

(2) Here is a very, very brief digest of vocabulary assessment for multilinguals, within roughly the past 30 years.
There was a time when the research paradigm was to look for so-called “translation equivalents”. Multilingual children were expected to have the exact same vocabulary in all their languages, or risk being labelled “imbalanced” multilinguals – or even “not” multilinguals at all. I’m sure we’ve all heard these scare-quoted labels before.
Then François Grosjean stated his observations of multilingual behaviour in what he termed the Complementarity Principle: multilinguals use their languages for different purposes – or they wouldn’t need different languages. So it is clear that there can be no exact equivalence across the languages of a multilingual.
Since the vocabulary of a child’s (or an adult’s!) different languages doesn’t overlap, Barbara Pearson and her colleagues proposed that the total vocabulary of the child, in all languages, should be taken into account in a fair assessment.
This makes very good sense. If, say, mum and dad speak different languages to the child, and mum is in charge of homework whereas dad is in charge of bedtime, the child will not know homework words in dad’s language and vice versa.
But, and this is a very big BUT: clinical assessment instruments are available for very, very few languages still. See point 7) in Kathy’s latest posting, above, for what clinicians do where no instruments are available for a particular language.
This is a problem for monolingual children too, by the way. Screening and assessment tests are normed not only for particular languages but, necessarily, for particular dialects (= varieties) of a language. A Scottish child tested with instruments normed for, say, a Texan accent, is likely to fare as “poorly” as our homework-bedtime child tested for bedtime vocabulary in mum’s language.
The upside: we are (finally…) on our way to understanding what multilinguals are and what multilingualism is, on their own terms. I think this is excellent news for all of us, regardless of how many languages we happen to use.


10 Mable May 27, 2010 at 9:55 pm

I think one important point is left out of this discussion and that is that every kid is different. I have two sons and they are both raised in a multilingual environment. My older one had speech/language delay. Because he was our first child, we were torn between all the various opinions given to us. This was especially tough during the first 4 years. When my younger son turned two, it was clear that he was developing language pretty normally. He was more dominant in English, but he was able to learn and understand the other two languages pretty naturally.

My older son is 6 now, and he has shown great progress just the last few months in his comprehension and reading skills. And he has shown this in all the languages, but most predominatly English because he gets more focus on it from school. So my take is that the multilingual environment didn’t help him in terms of being at the same level as his peers, but I think even without the multiple languages, he would still have been more “delayed” than say his younger brother…

Just my 2 cents.


11 Maria H May 27, 2010 at 11:36 pm

What a rich conversation to have stumbled upon and how great to have a place to share such a wealth of information with so many well informed and concerned contributors.

As a parent, what I hear in the initial question is fear, concern and uncertainty. Clearly without any more information on the child (like how are his fine and gross motor skills, how does he interact with others, does he communicate non-verbally…) it is hard to get a clear picture of this particular situation other than that the family is worried and uncertain now that they have started down this road, and rightfully so. And, in my reading, it seems as though they did not have any concerns, but the playgroup teacher and therapist do.

I think that its important to remember that for many families making a choice to raise their children with more than one language is a conscious and thoughtful one and depending on where they live can also be an isolating and challenging decision. Perhaps because of this I think it is often a knee-jerk reaction (whether by parents themselves or other professionals) to pull the language patten of the child into question when there are other developmental concerns, especially if the concern is one that involves language development. While it is wonderful to read in this thoughtful discussion that more and more speech therapists are being trained to work with multilingual children I do think, at least in the US, that is still location dependent and it is often suggested early on that the family “drop” one of the languages to make things easier. (As an early childhood teacher in a school servicing a population with a high number of bilingual students I saw this quite often). Imagine being a family already in flux because you are dealing with navigating whether or not your child has a developmental challenge that you need to help him with and then also feeling like perhaps your decision to use more than one language has contributed to his situation. Horrible! For that reason I think it is important that the discussion remains clear in what the specific concerns are and does not inadvertently imply the use of more than one language is a cause of delays or continuing will make it worse.

And, while ‘multicultural’ and ‘multilingual’ seem to be used interchangeably in this discussion I think it is important to note that they are not one in the same and are, for many, two very important pieces of the decision to raise a child in more than one language. For many families, (including my own), the languages being used are an important and direct connection to the languages and cultures of each of the parents and so the idea that one would be “given up” seems, to me, insensitive to the reality of a multicultural/multilingual family. How would you “choose” what language to stop? In my opinion, yet another reason it is important for families with developmental concerns to seek the help of professionals that have experience with multicultural and multilingual communities.

Back to the initial post. While clearly the therapist in this particular case has a more complete view of the child in question, and so a better picture of the overall development of the child, I would still encourage the parents to seek out a therapist that does have specific experience/training with bilingual children, especially if the child is to continue with therapy. Obviously a bilingual child with language delays and/or developmental concerns will have specific needs and it would seem they would be best served by someone with experience in that situation so that both the child and the family can have support as they figure out the best next steps.

Maria H


12 Kathy Krikorian May 28, 2010 at 12:37 pm

This really has been such a fruitful discussion. I really appreciate it.
All of you are correct in saying that a therapist who has experience with a multilingual children is optimal.
My only plea is not to “throw the baby out with the bathwater” as the saying goes; there are, unfortunately, not as many therapists with the relevant experience as there should be and I wouldn’t want people to disregard anything a therapist has to say because she’s not multilingual/multicultural or doesn’t have a lot of experience with it. Such therapist still have a lot to contribute, as I’ve mentioned in earlier posts.

NO speech therapist should be telling a family to stop speaking their home (and heart) language. Very ‘not good’, as I sometimes say.

Cheers! Let’s keep up the conversation!


13 Corey May 28, 2010 at 6:55 pm

Kathy and everyone – this has been one of the most fascinating, engaging, exciting discussions I have been a part of in years! And it has all been done via cyberspace across an entire globe! I’m actually a little teary-eyed at this whole experience. Aside from the specifics to this topic and the fact that we clearly need to write some awesome posts about this subject, I am delighted that this conversation is even happening! Here’s to multilingual children everywhere!


14 Maria H May 28, 2010 at 9:26 pm


I agree, great discussion. I don’t think anyone has suggested that the advice of a trained therapist be completely disregarded when a developmental delay is suspected or diagnosed. But, in a bilingual home I think that it is imperative to find a therapist with experience working with multilingual families, even though I have no doubt that might mean an exponential amount of work for the parents. And obviously, depending on the situation of any particular child this could mean one of several specialists working with the child have this experience or the lone therapist have this experience. I guess while I agree that it must be acknowledged a trained therapist obviously brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to the table I think its important that multilingual/multicultural families are not afraid to be advocates for their children and the importance of maintaining their family language pattern.

As for a family being told not to, “stop speaking their home (and heart) language” I guess that is in part why I brought up the multicultural/multilingual point. For most children raised with more than one language since birth I don’t think you can say one language is more “home/heart” than the other. Although depending on the location of the family they would certainly be a clear majority language of the community I don’t think one holds more weight than the other. And for the child and family I think “choosing” is quite insensitive to the reality of being a bilingual/bicultural (or multilingual/multicultural) family.

great to have your experienced input.


15 Maria H May 28, 2010 at 9:33 pm


Somehow I missed your last post as I was replying to Kathy’s latest comment. I just want to agree it is exciting to have this conversation taking place and thank you for giving us a place to do so. I look forward to continued discussion on this and other topics. Its always refreshing to hear other perspectives and I find that wanting to defend or explain an idea or belief is a great way to have to re-examine and critique my own thoughts. Kudos to all!


16 Corey June 5, 2010 at 12:30 am

Yes, yes, yea! I’m in total agreement! So great to have you joining in these conversations!


17 gweipo June 6, 2010 at 11:54 pm

There’s a rather handy book called “Raising a bilingual Child” by Barbara Zurer Pearson, which has a whole chapter on “Are there any children who cannot learn two languages” where she goes into details on language impairment, with some very practical thoughts.


18 Corey July 11, 2010 at 6:01 pm

Thank you for the book recommendation! I love that book! In fact, we did a review of it in Multilingual Living Magazine and found it to be wonderful. I’m going to check again what Barbara says in that chapter – thanks for the tip for all of us!


19 sancha rolland July 11, 2010 at 10:30 am

Hi !

Our son is going through tests to see if he has SLI or a form of developmental delay…

It’s been very stressful for me and the bilingual issue / being told to give up English with him (we’re in France) very upsetting.

His French has come along well over the last few months since he was 5 years old and he has a 1-2-1 helper 9 hrs per week in school which has really helped him to understand what’s asked of him at school. However he got that help through a ‘ pervasive developmental disorder’ diagnosis instead of language impairment.

I know it’s not the main issue – so long as he gets the necessary help- you have to swallow your pride as a parent even if you don’t agree with the diagnosis. The most urgent worry was not letting him get put in an institution for ‘autistic typ’ kids if it wasn’t what’s best for him. I believe mainstream will help him socialize more.

Here in France in any case the professionnals are very anti-bilingualism if a child has a language delay due to sli or autism or whatever else !

Very frustrating.


20 Corey July 11, 2010 at 6:06 pm

Sancha, thank you so very much for taking the time to add this comment. You are not alone when it comes to bilingual families being told to stop using a language with a bilingual/multilingual child. It can be so very frustrating and even frightening – language is part of who we are. To ask us to stop speaking a language with our child means to change an entire relationship structure (plus so much more)!! If you need any specific research on this topic which you can share with your child’s therapists/educators/doctors, please do not hesitate to contact us ( We an point you to articles and more which are supportive of bilingualism/multilingualism even during uncertain situations such as yours. Many best wishes!


21 sancha July 13, 2010 at 6:53 am

Me again !

I’ll just share ‘in case’ nobody here has come across these articles on the subject…

Johanne Paradis has a website and she’s an expert on sli and bilingualism (Alberta, Canada). Elin Thordadottir at McGill uni in Montréal has written about the same thing and Kohnert has just written about it on the ‘bilingual therapies forum – adelante forum.

The ‘technical problem’ here for me is that all the professionnals read French and all of the scientific articles on the subject are in English. So, there’s a group of professionnals grouping their scientific knowledge to share it internationally ‘’, so maybe in a few years time in France they’ll be more up-to-date…

I read a great article too called ‘to be or not to be bilingual’ for children with autism.

Sorry, hopeless about typing direct ‘links’.

If there are any other articles on the subject that I haven’t yet read, I’d be happy to know where to look !



22 Corey November 19, 2010 at 10:32 pm

Thank you for the suggestions, Sancha! That is a great line-up of researchers! It is amazing how much research is out there yet it doesn’t seem to get into the hands (and learning materials) of those who really need it (let alone parents who then would be able to ask questions to get a dialog going). So very appreciated!


23 Pippa Beetson October 4, 2010 at 12:31 am

Dear Corey and all above,
Thank you for sharing this stream of insightful, relevant and informed discussion. I am in the midst of trying to uncover the language history of a child who has entered our school as a multilingual with a diagnosed PDD. I have such a better idea of the questions I should ask of the parents regarding her diagnosis and recomendations as a result of this post and subsequent comments.
This issue seems to be at the forefront of current debate and hopefully will drive future research into multi-lingualism. We are seeing more and more children who are being flagged as “language delayed” and I am constantly looking for information to help support parents as they raise bi and multi-lingual children.
Thank you so much!


24 Corey November 19, 2010 at 10:33 pm

Thank you so much for leaving a comment, Pippa! It is always so wonderful to hear from people dealing directly with this situation and who are able to benefit from such detailed discussions! I believe that the more these discussions take place, the more people will start to give it some true attention. I hope everything goes well with the child you are working with!


25 sancha November 20, 2010 at 7:23 am

Hi !

I’d be very interested if anyone knew of any articles or personal experiences of ‘going back’ to mother tongue after stopping because of professionnals’ pressure on the subject.

As I previously said, I desperately didn’t want our son going to a psy hospital place, when in fact it was a lang delay / disorder.


26 Corey August 18, 2011 at 3:17 am

Great question, Sancha. I do not know of any articles about that but I’m sure there are people out there who have done it. Did you see a recent post about why children of immigrants should learn their heritage language? The NPR interview might give some insight.


27 Catherine August 14, 2011 at 9:33 am

Should we use only one language when teaching a child with autism?

I am currently a bilingual special educator, who works with children diagnosed with autism. I mostly work with Early Intervention (birth – 3 years old). The children that are typically diagnosed by a bilingual psychologist.

My agency’s policy requires me to start ABA services in English because they feel that we need to prepare the child for schooling; however, I feel conflicted because I would like to teach the child in his native language using ABA methodology. Most parents that I work with only speak Spanish and when we start teaching their child in English — the child is unable to generalize what he has learn into his natural environment because his/her parents and family members do not speak the language (English).


28 Corey August 18, 2011 at 3:21 am

Great question/points, Catherine! Unfortunately, I can not answer this from a professional stand point. However, I think that what you are saying makes complete sense! How can a child be expected to express him/herself in a language in which he/she is not yet fully comfortable? It makes no sense to me and it makes me wonder if the goal is to truly help a child deal with a disorder or meet generic educational standards. I’d hope that the child’s needs would come first! Please follow the links to Madalena’s websites (see her bio after the post) and see if you can reach her directly. I am certain she will be able to answer in more depth!


29 aily April 28, 2013 at 10:41 pm

hi,my son is almost 4 years old.he was diagnose with high functioning autism and he still doesn’t talk.we speak English and spanish at the house sometimes dutch.the psychologist told us to take one language out so we got rid of the dutch.he seems to understand everything we say, he repeats words but he does not put them together.will he ever? just dont know what to do,he has all sorts of therapy even equine therapy …nothing seems to help with the speech,im a desperate mom.


30 Katja August 30, 2015 at 7:50 am

How is the situation now after two years? Can your son now string sentenced together – does he speak both languages, or one at least? Please, please, answer me something.


31 liza April 30, 2013 at 4:50 am

i have a 2 yr and 7 months old son, and i brought him to parenting school and the facilitator is concerned about the way he acts. he is fond of the infant toys, and doesn’t play with other kids, and doesn’t respond to his name. she mentioned the word autism and it’s freaking me out, whole night and the next day, and planning to consult a specialist, though besides the plan i visited a lot of website. read about red flags on autism in 2 to 3 years old.

my child really ignores strangers and doesn’t socialize with them. ignores them even they call his name thousand times. and but when he see the person more often he approaches them with his toys, he shows anything he is fond of playing that time.

i am a single mom, and his behavior is different between me and his dad. he ignores me most of the time but very excited when he see his dad. his dad picks him up bi weekly though he brings us grocery shopping every week. And he hates it when he won’t be picking him up to go with him and he remembers until the next weekend and he is not excited to see him.

he hears if his dad speaks in russian on his phone, he hears when i speak in ilocano (filipino dialect), he hears when i speak tagalog (filipino language) but we, parents speak to him only in english and so as my friends. As i observe him he recognizes russian language since he stops and listens to any stranger that speaks in russian. he listens as well, whenever i speak on my phone and speaks ilocano or tagalog with my parents

i would really want to hear that my little boy is just a shy boy that nothing is wrong with him. but i would still want to hear it from specialist so atleast there’ll be “early intervention”


32 Terry November 21, 2014 at 10:27 pm

I delight in, cause I found just what I was looking for.
You’ve ended my four day long hunt! God Bless you man. Have a great day.


33 sancha rolland November 22, 2014 at 8:19 am

Hi ! I just got Terrys’ comment on my mailbox and re-read my comments over 4 years ago…time flies !

I think it might be useful to some to hear of what happened afterwards :

Our son saw speech therapists / psys at the nearest hospital centre specialized in diagnosing language disorders etc. At 5 it still wasn’t certain for them if he had some type of autism or not, at 6 they cleared that aside and said SLI. The school and local professionnals never really believed the diagnosis and we ended up changing him to another school where there are a lot more bilingual kids too. We should have done that long beforehand but as I work in the same school I hesitated mixing work and private life.

Our son’s nearly 10. He’s made so much progress in French that it’s hardly noticeable that he misunderstands sometimes. I think when he goes up to the next school things are going to get tough again and I think he’ll be skilled with his hands rather than an intellectual !

However I never got support for going back to English, he really shies away from it and has quite a stubborn personnality : he knows he finds it difficult learning language. Soon I’m going to be having another boy and I’m trying to persuade my boys to make an effort to help me with the baby in English. That might give them the motivation.

I regret not having had enough strength to stand my ground with the teachers etc who thought I didn’t have a clue about anything. If that can help other parents not to make a similar mistake.

One thing that really helped our son was when we bought a labrador. Searching for practical ideas on internet for language disorders, autism, hyperactivity etc (his brother has that !) I read about animal therapy and for us it really helped our family. I would speak slowly to the dog in front of my son, to catch the ball or whatever and he was motivated to imitate me and speak with the dog too. After that his language / conversation really developped a lot faster. Plus I think labradors are so lovely with kids everyone should have one !

I bear with any parent going through what we went through ! Sancha


34 Milou April 24, 2015 at 3:36 am

Hi!I’m so happy to find this site, these comments! My husband and I are raising a multilingual son. But things were not like this from the beginning. We moved to Belgium 3 years ago, when my son was 2 and a half. He was barely talking his mother language (Romanian) and it is then that his father started speaking Dutch to him. Besides that my husband and I speak English to each other. My son is still struggling to make himself understood, he can’t speak any of the two (Dutch or Romanian) grammatically correct, he’s making lots of inversions in the sentence construction and I been told that it is probably because he was forced to learn a new language (in school) while his mother tongue wasn’t yet developed. So far nobody asked me to stop speaking my own language to him, but speech therapist is still wondering whether his language delay has to do with the multilingual aspect or there’s more than that.

I’m pretty worried about this as he gets more and more aware that he’s not as good as his peers when it comes to expressing himself. His has no self confidence..I sometimes wonder how much he really understands in both languages.
How can I help him? How do I know if language delay is due to the bilingualism?



35 Leilani January 10, 2017 at 12:46 am

Our situation at home is different and Im not sure if its considered multilingual. We speak to our son in English only, but everyone in the house – 5 adults speaks a different language (filipino language). He was speech delayed but he started talking a month before he turned 3 and now we’re working on phrases. Does it affect his speech in anyway that he only knows English and yet everyone around him talks a different language which he cant understand and wherein he cant join the conversation?


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