Charting the impact of bilingualism for autistic children

This projects focuses on language learning in autistic children and how bilingualism can impact on various aspects of their lives.

In a nutshell

animated image depicting bilingual child


This study takes a step towards exploring the question of whether bilingualism can provide a naturalistic opportunity to further develop social cognitive skills, and to better understand the impact of bilingualism on cultural identity, societal inclusion and quality of life for autistic children.

About the project

This project is split into two studies.

Study 1: Cognitive findings

There is little research addressing how bilingualism might impact autistic people. What limited cognitive literature exists can be summarised as follows: bilingual exposure is unlikely to lead to poorer development of language in children with autism and could provide an advantage in social and communicative domains. However, many parents and practitioners are still concerned about the potentially harmful effects of bilingualism on development


We have collected longitudinal data from bilingual children in order to understand the influence of bilingual exposure on changes in cognitive development in children with and without autism. We visited children and their families at home to measure aspects of cognitive development using standardised measures, eye-tracking and bespoke questionnaires.

We have completed data collection at the two timepoints, with 110 families participating in the first timepoint, and a total of 75 children at the second timepoint.

Study 2: The child perspective

Research focusing on autism and bilingualism is currently limited as it disregards the child’s own views and attitudes on bilingualism and focuses solely on language and cognitive outcomes. Important questions remain about how autistic children view the impact of bilingualism on their cultural identity, societal inclusion and quality of life.


We will create a novel interview tool, primarily for practitioners to elicit the experiences of autistic bilingual children as part of their assessments with children and families. The tool will focus on socio-cultural factors where bilingualism has been shown to impact neurotypical children, such as family cohesion, school relationships, friendships and cultural identity.

Crucially, this assessment will be co-created with stakeholders including autistic bilingual people, parents with autistic bilingual children, practitioners and researchers to connect lived experience with scientific expertise.


This research will directly address the priorities of both families and practitioners; contributing to and developing evidence-based resources that will enable these stakeholders to make informed choices with and for their children.

Our interview tool will be open access for future use in research and practice. Our guidelines for families and practitioners will be disseminated across nine European countries through our project partners Autism Europe and Bilingualism Matters, and with their international stakeholder networks.


Economic and Social Research Council, and FIRAH

Key Contact

Dr Rachael Davis