Perspectives and Experiences of Autistic Multilingual Adults: A Qualitative Analysis

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Abstract

Background: The combined experience of autism and bilingualism is poorly understood, leading to poor support for autistic people in multilingual environments or those interested in languages. While most available studies focus on the language and cognitive profiles of autistic bilinguals, or on the experiences of parents, little is known about the lived experiences of autistic multilinguals.

Methods: To address this question, this study examined the impact of autism and multilingualism on the lives of 54 autistic multilingual adults who completed an online survey assessing the profiles of autistic bi- and multilinguals. We conducted a thematic analysis of responses to the survey's open-ended questions to explore motivations for learning languages and the perceived benefits of being both autistic and multilingual.

Results: There was a wide range of language profiles in the sample, with various levels of proficiency, ages of acquisition, and learning environments. Respondents felt that being autistic can both positively and negatively influence language learning. They reported various motivating factors for the acquisition of multiple languages, including social aspects and a predisposition for language learning. Respondents reported many benefits of multilingualism, such as educational, employment, or leisure opportunities; social skills and understanding of other people; self-confidence in their own abilities; and relationships with family, friends, and the worldwide autistic community.

Conclusions: Unlike previous work with autistic multilinguals involving case studies, the larger sample involved here offers valuable insight into the profiles and experiences of this overlooked population. Importantly, autistic people can experience numerous benefits from multilingualism. These findings will have implications for language education practices as well as for multilingual families and the practitioners who support them.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)310-319
JournalAutism in Adulthood
Volume3
Issue number4
Early online date5 Jul 2021
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 7 Dec 2021

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  • ESRC Fellowship

    Digard, B.

    1/10/211/10/22

    Project: Research

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