Publication date: April 2019
Source: Research in Developmental Disabilities, Volume 87
Author(s): Katie B. Howard, Napoleon Katsos, Jenny L. Gibson
With growing numbers of bilingual children on the autism spectrum in UK classrooms, the interaction between autism and bilingualism is becoming a pressing issue for practitioners, researchers and families. In this study, we report the school experiences of bilingual, autistic children in the UK through their own voice with focus on five aspects of their school life.
Using interpretative phenomenological analysis (IPA) as a methodological framework, semi-structured, computer-assisted interviews were conducted with 11 children aged 7 to 14 from across England and Wales. Interviews were carried out in English and took place in mainstream schools or the children’s home, depending on their preference.
Results indicate that, while children’s school experiences vary widely, there were commonalities in this population’s identity formation, including being bilingual, and their classroom experiences. Most notably, children educated in more multilingual environments (i.e. in schools with larger multilingual populations) expressed more positive views about multilingualism than those in more monolingual settings. In line with previous studies, limited social circles and classroom anxiety were present in participants’ school experiences.
The findings of this paper suggest that giving autistic children from bilingual backgrounds opportunities to explore their linguistic identities in the classroom may enhance their experiences of school. Further research should focus on parents’ and practitioners’ attitudes and perspectives towards the support available for this population.