Measuring the relationship between bilingual exposure and social attentional preferences in autistic children

Rachael Davis, Hugh Rabagliati, Lewis Montgomery, Antonella Sorace, Sue Fletcher-Watson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Background: Autistic children show reduced attentional preferences to social stimuli early in development, and these differences have consequences on a range of social domains. One factor that could influence development in those processes is bilingualism. Parents and practitioners frequently voice unfounded concerns that bilingualism could cause delays in autistic children, yet there is little evidence to dispute this idea. While there are studies focusing on the impact of bilingualism on cognition in autistic children, no research has focused on the relationship between bilingualism and social attention. Aims: This study therefore investigated the impact of bilingual exposure on social attention in autistic (n = 33) and neurotypical children (n = 42) aged 6–13 years. Rather than a monolingual/bilingual comparison, participants had varying degrees of bilingual exposure, and exposure was treated as a continuous variable. Participants completed an eye-tracking task measuring visual attention to interacting versus non-interacting human figures. Results: Bilingual exposure did not affect dwell time to interacting or non-interacting figures for the neurotypical or autistic groups. However, there was a three-way interaction between diagnosis, figure type and vocabulary scores on dwell time. Conclusions: Higher vocabulary scores in neurotypical participants was associated with significantly less dwell time to non-interacting stimuli. This is the first study to assess the effects of bilingualism on social attention; here, concerns of bilingualism are not upheld.
Original languageEnglish
Article number27
Pages (from-to)1-18
Number of pages18
Issue number1
Early online date16 Jan 2023
Publication statusPublished - 2023

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • autism
  • bilingualism
  • social attention
  • language


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