Studying lexical diversity in bilingual children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) can contribute important information to our understanding of language development in this diverse population. In this exploratory study, lexical comprehension and production and overall language skills were investigated in 14 English–Chinese bilingual and 14 English monolingual preschool-age children with ASD. Results indicated that both groups had equivalent scores on all but one measure of language and vocabulary, including English production vocabulary, conceptual production vocabulary, and vocabulary comprehension. When comparing the two languages of bilingual participants, there were no significant differences in production vocabulary size or vocabulary comprehension scores. The results provide evidence that bilingual English–Chinese preschool-age children with ASD have the capacity to function successfully as bilinguals.
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A minimum of 30 words was selected because it is at about this point in early language development that typically-developing children’s vocabularies begin to include both nouns and verbs rather than nouns only.
When these data were collected, the only available standardized measure of Chinese vocabulary that was equivalent to the English PPVT had been developed and standardized in Taiwan. Together with language development experts who were also native speakers of both Mandarin and Cantonese, we examined every item on the test and assured that it would be appropriate for children speaking Cantonese. On this basis, we deemed it appropriate to rely on standard scores as comparison guidelines for the four Cantonese-speaking participants in our study, but the interpretations should be treated with caution.
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We thank the children, parents, speech-language pathologists, and behaviour consultants who participated in our study, as well as the individuals who contributed assessments, coding assistance, translating, and editorial support: Krista Byers-Heinlein, Jacqueline Chong, Alice Hung, Carolyn Johnson, Cherry Li, Patty Petersen, Clinton Tsang, Susan Yang, and Jing Zhao. We would like to also acknowledge Twila Tardif for providing us with the Chinese Communicative Development Inventories and the two anonymous reviewers for their helpful feedback.
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Petersen, J.M., Marinova-Todd, S.H. & Mirenda, P. Brief Report: An Exploratory Study of Lexical Skills in Bilingual Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. J Autism Dev Disord 42, 1499–1503 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-011-1366-y