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- I would like to take the opportunity to welcome our primary presenters today, who's Doctor Tamara Sorenson Duncan, assistant professor in the School of Linguistics and Language Studies at Carleton University, she's an expert on bilingual development in childhood and her research focuses on language and literacy development in children from diverse backgrounds and with diverse learning needs including children with ASD.

We also have with us, as I mentioned, Isabel Smith, and Isabel is a professor in the Department of Pediatrics here at Dalhousie University in Halifax, she's also the Joan and Jack chair and autism research at the IWK Health Center.

As a developmental clinical psychologist, her research focuses on the development, health and well-being of individuals with developmental disabilities, especially children and youth with ASD.

And our third contributor today's webinar is not actually able to join us, but we certainly wanna thank Mandy Kay-Raining Bird for her contributions to the webinar today as well, and she's also happy to respond to questions that you may have that you wanna pose of her later after the fact as well.

So Mandy is a professor in Communication Sciences and Disorders at Dalhousie University, she's a certified speech-language pathologist as well, and the main focus of her research is in the area of cultural and linguistic diversity and bilingualism, including children with ASD and Down syndrome.

So we're very lucky to have had and to have the contribution of all three of these experts related to communication development and bilingualism in particular in students with ASD and diverse needs, and I will turn the webinar over to Tamara, and we look forward to hearing what you have to share with us.

- Thank you so much.

I actually wanted to start by thanking Shelley and (mumbles) for this invitation.

I'm really thrilled to be here today to share with you about our research and more generally about research that's ongoing in our fields.

Until recently, bilingualism in autism was not on the radar of researchers.

Although educators recognized it as a key and necessary area of inquiry.

Research only began for merge on this topic around 2012, and there has really been an increase in research in the last couple years.

I'm really excited to share with you what is really an emerging field and some new research in this area.

So, today we're going to give you a roll in tour of the existing research and specifically we would like to talk about autism and language development generally; myths about the autism and bilingualism; bilingualism and education in the Atlantic Provinces; bilingualism in families from immigrant and refugee backgrounds; French immersion; bilingualism in French-speaking families in Nova Scotia; bilingualism among First Nations families; and augmented and alternative communication.

So, it's quite a roll in to get through and I hope that you'll find parts of this very relevant to your experiences as educators and school specialists.

So, let's start by taking a look at autism and language development generally.

Autism spectrum disorder, or ASD, is a neurodevelopmental condition characterized by difficulties in social communication and restricted and repetitive behavior.

So, you've likely heard this definition before, it's one that's often thrown out when we're talking about autism, but I think it's important to pause and think about what all of the words in this definition mean.

So let's start with neurodevelopmental.

Neurodevelopmental refers to the growth and development of the brain and central nervous system.

It's often used when it's discussing the brain functions that affect emotion, learning ability, self-control and memory, so you can see how this is often used in relation to autism.

And autism affects, as I mentioned, social communication; and social communication is the verbal and nonverbal aspects of communication, such as using language for social purposes, so when we're trying to interact with each other; appropriately matching the communication to the social context, so how I'm speaking now when I'm giving you information about a research should be one dialect, which would be different than the way I would speak with my family around the dinner table.

I also need to adjust my language to match the needs of my communication partner, so when I'm discussing education with educators there's a lot less stuff defining properties that has to go on than when I'm talking to, let's say, my students who haven't had experience in the school system.

Following the social rules for communication, how much information should you share, what are the rules for taking turns, all of this is part of social communication.

Another really crucial aspects of social and communication is understanding non literal meaning.

Then, when we're interacting with people, it's not just our words that we're using to communicate, we also use our body language and many other forms of nonverbal communication, and all of this information has to be integrated together in order for us to understand and fully participate in communication with other people.

The other side of the definition of autism has to do with restricted and repetitive behaviors.

Restricted and repetitive behavior is a broad categories of behaviors, and it includes such things as narrow interests sometimes defined as a preoccupation, so, we've seen examples of children who are really interested in talking about, say, the Titanic at the exclusion of wanting to talk about other things.

So, we can also see many children with autism having adherence to non-functional routines.

So this might be the need to walk to school on a certain road even though another road would get you there just fine.

And then the obvious one, that most people think about, is repetitive motor movements.

Broadly speaking, these two key aspects of autism make up the diagnosis and the differentiation of autism, so social communication and restricted and repetitive behavior.

And a thing about autism is it's really prevalent.

The current estimates put autism as affecting about one in 66 people, and this means that in a regular size urban school at least one child in every grade is likely to have autism.

This is something that, as you know even more than I do, that is something that every educator, every school clinician is used to dealing with and is really forefront on their minds in a lot of cases.

My area of research focuses on language development.

So, what does language development look like in children with autism?

In the areas of vocabulary and sentences, children with autism present with a wide range of language skills, some are having precocious language abilities and some being minimally verbal.

Current estimates suggests that approximately 30% of children with autism are minimally verbal, which is defined about age five, the child has less than 20 words in their expressive vocabulary.

And if you think about all of the ideas and interests, and needs that a child needs to share with the people around them, it's very hard to do that with 20 words or less.

When we see in typical language development, is that children have about 2,100 words in their expressive vocabularies by this age.

So, the key part of this to keep in mind is that language development is a noted area of challenge for many but not all children with autism.

That said, pragmatic or social communication is an area of challenge for all children with autism.

So, if you remember, that was part of the diagnostic criteria that we just reviewed.

So, because language learning is often a noted area of challenge for children with autism, many fear that bilingualism may present too much additional burden for children with autism, meaning if learn one language is hard, people are often concerned that learning two will just be too much.

But today the research suggests that this fear is largely unfounded.

Going through this and in detailing the available evidence in today's webinar, we want to start by dispelling some commonly held myths about bilingualism in children with autism, and then we'll share some details of some studies, so you can see the type of research that's been conducted in this area.

So, in some ways these myths we're starting about and the realities of what the research suggests represent our key take-home points from the talk.

And the rest of the talk will highlight the details of the specific research projects to illustrate this points.

So, in some ways, this is maybe a little backwards having the key points first, but I think it's important to lay out where we're going.

So, it's often thought, that two languages will be too confusing for children with autism.

Existing research suggests that this is a myth.

The brain does not get confused.

Children, including children with autism, can separate their two languages early in development.

Another commonly held belief is that learning two languages takes twice as much time and effort, and if learning one language is already hard for children with autism, learning two would just take too much time.

But again, this appears to be a myth from what the current research is showing.

Knowing one language can help children learn another and so having a strong first language gives support to learning a second language, it's not like starting over again.

But we also have to keep in mind when we're saying that the both the quantity and quality of interactions children have affects how well we learn each language.

So it's not reasonable to expect a child who hardly hears the language to learn that language.

They need time and practice with each language.

So playing on this, another commonly held belief is called where people say, keep it simple, children with autism should only learn one language.

And it stems back to the idea that because languages are difficult with children, let's minimize how much difficulty we place on them.

But again, research suggests that this is a myth.

If important people in the child's life speak more than one language, exposure to only one language only serves to isolate the child, and this is something that we're gonna come back to as we go through some of the research today.

And finally, one of the myths that the research has today primarily focused is on is children with autism cannot become bilingual.

And this, again, is a myth.

Children with autism can and do become bilingual, and I hope that you will be convinced by that by the end of today is webinar.

Related to service, another myth is that it's okay to assess and treat bilinguals with autism in one language.

And the reason that this is a myth is that because children with autism need both of their languages assessed and supported, so that we fully can get a picture of their strengths and weaknesses and understand how best to support this program.

But why is this so important in Atlantic Canada in particular?

So, let's chop by thinking about bilingualism in Atlantic Canada.

An estimated 274,000 people speak French as a mother tongue in Atlantic Canada, but French is a minority language in these regions and it's so often the case that these individuals also speak English.

An estimated 90,000 people have a non-official language as a mother tongue.

So that means these are people who speak something other than English or French at home and as a first language.

An estimated 7,000 people report not knowing English or French.

So these are individuals who we really need to be sensitive to their language needs and how do we best support them.

And for the school system then, this translates into a very diverse set of students, that all interact with on a regular basis.

But broadly speaking, we have English-speaking children enrolled in English language schools, and to date most of the research on autism and language development has focused on English-speaking children.

We also have francophone children enrolled in French language school, so again, we're talking about children with the language of the home and the language of school match.

But then we have a a number of children where that's not the case, with the language of school and the language of home can vary, so we can have non-Francophone children enrolled in French immersion.

We can have First Nations children who are enrolled in either French or English school boards.

And children from immigrant and refugee backgrounds, who are learning English and or French as a second language, and they can, again, be enrolled in either French or English school boards depending on which part of the country they're in.

And then the question that I'm often asked is what about French immersion for these students.

But today's question really comes to: should children with autism enroll in bilingual education?

So to start to answer that question, I wanna look at what the research says about autism and bilingualism.

To highlight the research today, we've put together four fictitious case studies, and each case study represents a different aspect of the research that we want to highlight.

The descriptions in these case studies do not represent actual children, and the details do not reflect actual service provided in these towns or the experiences of anyone one family.

This fictitious case studies are meant to reflect relatable examples of possible situations and the common concerns that you may encounter when interacting with bilingual families.

The research presented following each case study will showcase relevant findings that pertain to the issues raised with that case study.

So, let's jump in to the first one here.

We tested the audio, so hopefully it works out okay.

- [Narrator] This is Lou, she is a six-year-old, she moved to Charlottetown from China with her parents when she was an infant.

Mandarin is spoken exclusively in her home and Lou's mother has limited English skills.

The family lives in a neighborhood where English is the majority language.

They have a few Chinese friends they see quite frequently.

At four years of age, Lou was identified as having ASD, she attended an intensive early intervention program, which was offered only in English but provided the parents with suggestions about how to implement various language facilitation strategies in Mandarin at home.

She was exposed almost exclusively to Mandarin prior to receiving services for her ASD.

Lou currently attends first grade in a regular classroom.

English is the sole language of instruction.

She receives pull out support from a resource teacher, also in English but not ESL support.

Lou also receives speech language pathology services in English at school.

She is already showing important progress in English, since entering the school system, even though her English skills are not yet at par with her Mandarin skills.

Lou has continued to acquire her L1 through strong home support and exposure outside of school.

Although her language skills have improved considerably, Lou continues to have severe social interaction difficulties.

In the future, Lou is likely to continue to receive lots of support of her English skills, but no formal support in Mandarin.

As such, Lou is at risk for subtractive bilingualism.

This means that over time she might gradually lose her Mandarin abilities, but keep progressing in her English skills.

This would have a dramatic effect at home, because her mother has limited English knowledge, and with thus have difficulty communicating with Lou.

What should this family do?

How can the educators and school specialists support this family in the maintenance of bilingualism?

- Okay, so with that case study in mind, let's think about why is home language or first language or a minority language development important to this family?

So, what I've done here is I've just labeled some of those terms, because all of these terms are often used in reference to children from immigrant and refugee backgrounds, and to talk about their languages.

So, home language is used when we're talking about the language used by the child and their family members and home.

First language is the language the child learned first, and a minority language is a language spoken by a minority of people within a region.

So in this case study example, Mandarin is a minority language in Prince Edward Island, but a majority language in China.

So, the idea is to think about does this language have institutionalized support to help children learn it.

And for children from immigrant and refugee backgrounds, all of these terms can be used synonymously to refer to the language they're learning other than English.

So should we be worried about the home language development for this child?

And is being exposed to two languages beneficial for her?

To address these questions I wanna share with you some of the research I've been working on in collaboration with Andy Richard and Isabel Smith along with The Pathways in ASD Team.

And I'll tell you a little bit more about who The Pathways in ASD Team is in a minute.

So, we're titled this research "Majority-Language Shift "In a Bilingual Household On Children With Autism: "A Cautionary Tale For Sustained Bilingualism." So, majority language shift would be moving towards English away from the home language.

And what we really wanted to know was do families who speak a minority language at the time of an autism diagnosis keep speaking that language with their child?

And if they do, what is the impact of continuing that other language at home on their emerging majority-language abilities?

So does speaking another language at home somehow hinder or impact or maybe even help their English language abilities.

So, to answer these questions, we looked at data, that came from The Pathways in Autism research team.

So this is data from 421 children that comes from a national collaboration of five centers across Canada.

It's a really powerful way to look at language development, because of the number of children that have been included in this research.

Within these 421 children, 109 children received a diagnosis of autism before they turned four years old, and so from those we looked at the 70 children who were speaking English at home and had no other language reported at the home, and then we also looked at 39 children who were receiving minority language exposure at home at the time they were diagnosed.

So, over the course of the study, it was a longitudinal study, 21 of the families maintained the language and 18 of the families stopped using the language at home.

And we wanna look at what the differences are in the children's language ability if any.

To do that, I wanna give you a little bit more information about this sample, so that you can really be thinking about how we came to it and evaluate our conclusions.

Let's start by saying: are the two groups of children the same or at least the same enough to draw conclusions to comparing their language development.

So we have starting with on, you are looking at age of diagnosis.

We have the monolingually exposed children on the left and the minority-language exposed children in the center, and then the final column of the table is looking at just a statistical comparison that just asks are these groups different.

So, you can see they were both two years, 11 months or two years 10 months, the semicolon is separating years and months there, with similar standard deviations, so these groups have similar age at the time the study started.

You can see here that they had similar levels of restricted and repetitive behaviors.

They had similar levels of social communication abilities.

They had similar nonverbal IQ, although this one is getting a little bit close to being concerning when we're doing group comparisons.

What we have here the minority-language exposed group tending to be slightly lower but it didn't (mumbles).

And looking at their language levels at the time of diagnosis, we do actually have a difference that we have to note and keep in mind, when we're looking at these comparisons, because a monolingually exposed children tended to be more verbal and after the minority-language exposed children, so the children who were hearing another language at home tended to be more minimally verbal, there was more children who were minimally verbal in this sample.

So that's important to keep in mind when we look at the finding.

But again, when you look at the education level of the primary caregiver, we're not seeing differences.

So we have a fairly good comparison between the two groups, with a couple of things we need to keep in mind when we're interpreting our results.

So, the first question that we asked was do families who speak a minority language at the time of diagnosis, continue to speak that minority language at home.

'Cause we can't talk of bilingualism if children are no longer hearing two languages.

We looked at the 39 children who at the time of diagnosis were receiving, hearing another language at home and we counted how many kept the language using the home, either as a primary language spoken to the child so that's the language they speak most often, or is a secondary language in the household, so maybe English is used a little bit more often, but this language is still there.

And then we looked at families who drop the language all together.

So these are families that switched entirely to using English with their kids.

So, at the time of diagnosis, all of the families were at least to some degree using English plus another language with their child.

Two years later, this is now we see this huge gray part joining the pie that wasn't there before.

So we have blue, the people who have kept it as a primary language that they're speaking to their child.

Orange is of those who are using it less often but still using it.

And gray are those who are not using the language at all.

And then, by the time children were six years of age, we see a little bit of that gray has decreased, so some families have reintroduced the language.

So that is, to me, actually really encouraging, that we're bringing the language back, but I'm very concerned about the size of that blue piece of the pie, because these children spend a lot of their time in English environments at school, child care and so their chances to hear the home language are really restricted to their time at home, and if at home there are a few families that maintaining it as the language they're speaking with their child, it's impossible for these kids to continue to be bilingual if no one is speaking that language to them.

So for me, this suggests that there is a great risk for minority language loss for these children, that means losing their home language.

And this is something that we actually see in typical language development as well, it's a common pattern in children from immigrant and refugee backgrounds, regardless if they have autism or not.

But I think one thing we have to keep in mind is that it might be more severe with children from autism because they have limited input within the home, even when the minority language is maintained.

But, like I said, I'm cautiously optimistic that we're seeing it being reintroduced in some of the families who initially dropped it or stopped using it.

But I'm cautiously aware of how much pressure there is to bilingual families to provide monolingual input and interventions to their children.

So only talking to the child in English, only receiving interventions in English.

And so this for me might make the minority language, the home language, even more vulnerable for children.

As I said, it's very common for families from immigrant and refugee backgrounds to struggle to keep the home language strong.

I think we have some extra pressures that can make it even harder for families who have children with autism.

And then, in saying that, we need to say, well if they're keeping the language on home, what is the impact of that on the children's emerging majority language, or English in this case, abilities?

So we have to ask this: these children have to go to school in English, the society around them is in English, it's really important that we understand how their English language skills are developing.

So to ask this question, we looked at those, who kept the language at home, those who stopped using it all together, and those children who only ever heard one language at home right from birth, the monolingual children.

And to do this, I want to look at the children's language abilities at the time they were diagnosed and their language abilities at the end of the study when they were six years old.

And with children with autism, it's really important that we get a sense of their language abilities in multiple contacts and in a multiple domains.

So to do that we're using two measures: the Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scales and looking at both their expressive abilities, how well can they share their ideas, and the receptive abilities, how well can they understand what's being said to them.

And this is a parent reported measure.

So this gives us a sense of what children can do in their natural lives, in a naturalistic contexts.

Then, we have the preschool language skills, which has an auditory comprehension.

So receptive language, how well are they understanding, and expressive language scores, how well can they express their own ideas or tell us what they think.

And this is a direct observation measure, that's used by clinicians.

So we get this good mix of parent report and direct observation.

So what did we find?

What did the parents tell us about their children's receptive language abilities?

What you're looking at here is the average raw score for each group: the blue is the families who kept speaking the language across the study, the home language; the orange is the group of families who started with another language, but then stopped after the child received the diagnosis; and the gray are monolingual comparison groups.

And what we see is that at the beginning of the study the blue bar is much lower than the gray bar.

And we have a significant difference here, suggesting that at the beginning of the study the monolingual skill children had better understanding of language, than the children who were hearing another language at home.

But by age six all of the differences disappeared.

So now all of the groups are very comparable.

You'll see that blue bar jumps way up.

So as we hope, all of the children had increases in their language over the course of the study, but the children who were receiving first language or home language input at home, really saw this big jump to catch up.

If we again look in how well they're understanding, but this time thinking about what we're seeing, when a clinician interacts with the child, then at the beginning of the story that blue bar is really smaller than the other bars, we're seeing that the children who are speaking a home language at home are starting at the time of diagnosis, which is probably just the fluke of our sample.

They're starting with really low language abilities in terms of their understanding.

But again, by age six, in English their comprehension is just as good as the other children.

So, the families whose children kept hearing the home language at home, had just as good understanding of English on a measure administered by a clinician or researcher to them, as children who had stopped hearing it, and as children who only ever heard English at home.

What about their ability to share their ideas, to express their needs and wants?

At the beginning of the study, again, we have blue, the families who kept using the home language; orange, the families who stopped using it; and gray, the monolingual children, we had no statistical differences at the beginning of the studies, so all of the children at the start of the study had similar abilities to express themselves, and by the end, we still had no significant difference at the age six.

Using the clinician or researcher direct measures, again, we see this pattern where the children who are hearing the first language at home and their families kept it, were starting with lower abilities to share their ideas in English at the beginning of the study, it shouldn't be terribly surprising if they weren't hearing and using English at home at the time of diagnosis, and by age six we saw no difference in that.

So, we're seeing this patter where the children may start a little bit behind, when they're hearing the home language, which isn't super surprising, 'cause we're measuring them in English here (murmurs) language skill, but by age six, that time when they're starting grade one, they're getting into school, they're already caught up.

So, what does this mean?

Looking across the study, I'm really concerned about declining minority-language input, so how much they're hearing that home language, because, if children aren't hearing the language, this raises concerns for continued bilingualism for these children.

They need to hear and use the language to learn it.

And I think this data really emphasize that children with autism have the capacity for bilingualism and second language acquisition.

Continued first language, minority language exposure had no negative consequences for these children's English language development and we saw that in the families who maintained, kept using the first language, their children had similar language abilities to those who stopped and to the monolingual English children.

And crucially, our findings align consistently with what previous research into bilingualism and autism is showing, that bilingualism is not adding any extra burden.

It's true that this children often have language learning difficulties, but it's not made worse by their being exposed to a second language.

And I think the question that naturally follows from this then is why does this matter?

If English skills are the same across all learning situations, why does it matter if these families are supported in bilingualism.

There's a very crucial piece here that we haven't been talking about, and that's the child's first language development.

Continued minority language development or home language development is beneficial for these children in their social relationships with family, which ultimately affect their well-being.

So, it might not be the case, that it's affecting their English skills, but it's certainly has to affect their other language, their first language, their Home language.

If they're not hearing it, they can't learn it.

The other piece that we have to keep in mind is that in typical language development, children learn a second language more quickly, when they have a strong first language foundation.

So continuing to speak the first language and home language at home, these children have the opportunity to have a much stronger base on which to build their second language.

So in the long run, strong first language skills may help these children advance in English, but I ultimately don't think that's the most important reason.

I think the most important reason why we have to care about bilingualism has to do with the social relationships of the family and the children's well-being.

So, I'm gonna pause at this point and see if there's any questions, before we move into the next case study.

- There were a couple questions, Tamara, related to the quality and the intensity of the language in home, the first language.

One of the participants is wondering, if there was any indication that the mind that these minority language children might have been exposed to less language in home and their first language in relation to cultural norms, was there any indication that cultural norms are part of how much language they may have been exposed to at home?

And then the kind of a second part to that question was there any indication that the intensity or the frequency of the interaction with children might have been due to parents' perception of the ability of the children to communicate or to participate in those exchanges?

- Okay, so these are really really great questions, and when it comes down to the quality and quantity of the interaction, the honest answer is that we still need to do more research on that, we have very broad strokes information about these children's language exposure at this point in time.

And so, it's certainly could be that differences in the quality and quantity of interaction are a key piece of our findings.

And one of piece that I will add that in thinking about maybe there's cultural differences in how parents are interacting with their child, which affects the language their child hears, which then affects the language their child has learned is a very very real observation and I appreciate the comment.

The part that I would like to add to that is that families who choose to switch to English because they feel that that's what's best for their child, if they themselves don't have strong English abilities, this can also affect the quality of that interaction.

So, we see things about how it can make that parents nervous about interacting with their child, when they have to use the language.

It also means that the child might not be hearing the same richness of language, so they're not hearing as many different vocabulary items, they're not hearing as many different sentence types, and so that can make it harder for them to build up their language systems.

Whereas if the parents are speaking in a language that is most comfortable to them that richness comes much more naturally, and so does the love and the affection and all those other pieces, 'cause you're not monitoring your language, you're not trying to translate, you're not trying to think about what to say.

So that quality and quantity of language input is a super key features, but how it plays out in each family is actually really complicated, because there's all of these other factors that come into play.

- Thank you, that's really interesting, makes a lot of sense.

- And so the second question was, just remind me, was intensity of?

- Of the interaction.

Was there any indication that there was a relation to the parents perception of their child's ability or capability to do that?

- We don't have measurements of the parents perception, but we did look to see if parents were more likely to switch or drop the home language if the children were minimally verbal, and we didn't find any patterns, really, to that effect.

There's some tendencies of parents with certain education level, so you're less likely to switch it for more highly educated, but we didn't find connections of the children's actual autism severity or other symptoms that way, in this data anyway.

- I thank you for that.

There was another question and they're wondering if you know anecdotally, if families are being discouraged from pursuing bilingualism when there's a diagnosis of autism.

- So, many families are, to my understanding, have been discouraged from continuing the second language or, in this case, opting the home language, so they're often encouraged to pick one language with their children.

There's quite a lot of evidence reported from that, researchers reporting what parents say.

Honestly, I'm seeing a shift in what educators and clinicians are recommending.

The parents more and more are recognizing, as this research is coming out how important bilingualism can be for these families, but one thing there was an interesting master's thesis just completed at the University of Alberta, and she really did a detailed job of interviewing parents about their experiences.

And they said that, actually, they were told more by members of their community to stop speaking the language and less by professionals, but that the professionals didn't give them any concrete tools to keep up, in this case it was Spanish at home.

And that comes down to if all of the interventions are in English, we can still be implicitly telling parents that their child should be speaking English.

- Thank you very much.

Those are all of the questions I see for now.

I'll keep an eye out for more as we go.

- And Isabel, you were jumping in for questions if you have anything to add?

She didn't pop in, so I'm gonna keep going.

- All right, great, thanks.

- Okay, so.

I wanna move on to another case study here and shift gears just a little bit and talk about French immersion.

- [Narrator] Aaron is a third grade student enrolled in French immersion in Saint John's, Newfoundland.

His older brothers is in sixth grade, also in French immersion.

Aaron and his brothers live with their mother and father.

At home they speak English with each other.

Arron's parents do not speak French, but they value bilingualism and want their children to have the opportunities afforded through bilingualism.

At the beginning of this school year, Aaron was diagnosed with ASD.

Finally providing his parents and his teachers with an understanding of some of the struggles he has been facing.

Although learning basic language skills was not a problem for Aaron, and he can communicate in both English and French, he struggles with the more social aspects of language as well as math based learning difficulties.

Aaron's school and parents are working hard to put supports in place.

The school, however, has fewer supports available within the French immersion program.

As a result, Aaron's parents have been advised to transfer Aaron out of French immersion and into the English program.

Aaron's parents feel overwhelmed with coming to understand their son's diagnosis and want what's best for their son.

They're leaning towards moving Aaron out of French immersion.

Still, they feel disappointed that he would lose out on the opportunity to maintain and continue to develop his French language skills.

Further, they are concerned about what message it will send to Aaron if his brother stays in French immersion, while he cannot.

What should Aaron's parents do?

Is there a way that the school can support this family within French immersion?

What about children with a different profile of strengths and weaknesses?

- Okay, so as you can see we're really switching gears here and talking about a different situation, but one thing that I think is always important when we're interacting with children and their families is to be thinking about why is French immersion in this case important to this family?

Why is bilingualism important to the family?

In this case, we need to ask, is French immersion realistic for this child?

Should the family choose to move their son to an English program?

These are all questions that I'm sure you've all faced when interacting with families.

They really want to know what is best for their children and how to best support them.

And as educators and clinicians who also care very much about these children, we also want to know what is best for them and how do we advise them appropriately.

To speak to this, there's some new research coming out of a really interesting collaboration about French immersion outcomes for children with SEN, so special education needs.

And this research includes but is not limited to children with autism.

It's being conducted by Ann Sutton at the University of Ottawa; Elizabeth Kay-Raining Bird at Dalhousie University is one of the collaborators who created this webinar, Genesee at McGill who has been researching bilingual development for many many years, he's really an expert in this area.

Becky Chan is a researcher at the University of Toronto, and she's an expert in bilingualism and literacy development.

And they've teamed up with the Ottawa Carleton District School Board to look at how children in their French immersion program are doing, when they have special education needs.

It's a really fantastic opportunity to really investigate what is happening in French immersion for children with special education needs and it really represents new research in this area.

So, they're looking at, as I said, within this one school in Ottawa in Ontario and they wanna know how children are doing if there in an English language only program or if they have continued to stay in a French immersion program.

All of these children were enrolled in early French immersion which means they started from the beginning of their elementary school time in French immersion, and the question is are they coming up with different English language abilities.

So when they did this study, they were really talking at looking at the Provincial achievement scores and looking at how the children were doing at English, because that's the language that the provincial assessment is in.

So I will do my best to tell you all about this, but I will not have as much detailed to go in the question period about it.

So, one thing that is really powerful about this data is the sample size.

Because it's been conducted in partnership with the actual school district, they have a vast number of students that have been included in it.

And so, this really really helps.

So they're looking again at the Provincial achievement scores across children who have been diagnosed with having a special education need.

Let's look first at the children who enrolled in English language-of-instruction.

So these are children who are only in the English program.

On the left side we're looking at the percentage of children who have reached Provincial standards.

So, what we would expect for a grade three student in each of these four areas of reading, writing and math.

And so, the blue is represents reading scores.

So if we just look at the children on the left hand side of the table which have no formal label, so these are children who have special education need but we don't have a specific diagnosis for them.

You'll see that for these children the blue bar shows that 49% of these children have reached expectations for English reading, 56% have reached grade three expectation for writing, and 29% have reached that for math.

And this pattern of results repeats across the table.

So then, we have those that have been labeled as having a learning disability, those that have been labeled as having autism, those who have a language impairment, and those with mild intellectual disability.

And then on the other side, on the very right hand column you have a typically developing comparison group.

So it's not the case of all grade three students in Ottawa have reached age expectations for reading, writing and math, which will be no surprise to any educator, we always have big individual differences in our classrooms.

And the things to just really keep in mind here is how the children with autism doing, that's the focus of our talk today.

And so we have between less than half of the children in this case, but more than a third, doing quite well in reading and writing.

And let's jump over and look at in French immersion.

So in French immersion these children being educated in French as you know how a French immersion works.

But this testing was done in English, and so we have the same table here showing how are children doing compared to how many children are reaching grade three expectation for reading, writing and math.

And autism children, you can see, children with autism are located on the right hand side of the graph, next to the typically developing comparison group.

And in the French immersion class we see that 75% of the children, so three-quarters of the children are reaching expectations for reading and writing in English although they're in French immersion.

And this is the same information, but it's put in together, so that you can compare the early French immersion, EFI, and the English language-of-instruction, ELOI, program.

And so if we look across the board here, we now have the early French immersion in blue and the English instruction children in orange, and consistently across-the-board we're seeing that this blue group, they're French immersion children, is more of the children in French immersion are reaching a great expectations, than the children in the English language program.

So to summarize what this means then, we have just first pause and think about the groups.

It is important to acknowledge, that we are likely not talking about the same types of children in the English program compared to those who are in the French immersion program.

In the English language program, 8.6% of the children have alternate or special education programs, there was more children from low socioeconomic status backgrounds and neighborhoods, and there were more special education needs and more exceptionality categories represented in children who were in the English language-of-instruction program.

That's important to keep in mind, when interpreting these results.

It's true that in these data we see that the French immersion children have a higher percentage of children that are meeting Provincial standards in all domains.

It's true that the most children are meeting the Provincial standards when they're in French immersion, regardless of what type of diagnosis they have or what exceptionality category they are in, which is the terminology this research team is using.

In contrast, in the English language-of-instruction program the majority of children with special education needs are not meeting Provincial standards.

So we have this divide where in the French immersion program most of them are meeting the Provincial standard, but in the English language program they're not.

And this was especially true, when we were looking at children that had autism and mild intellectual disability.

Across all of the children math seemed to be harder, but I think we have to keep in mind, that we could be looking at a difference in the type of children who are staying in French immersion.

It might not actually be that French immersion is boosting these children's academic performance as much as we're talking about two different groups of kids.

So, children in the early French immersion programs in both studies were generally doing very well in their oral language, in their reading, in their academic achievement, and I think this is really promising for suggesting that children with autism can enroll in French immersion.

There's no evidence in this data that they should be excluded from early French immersion, but we do are seeing very clearly, that children with special education needs are not participating in French immersion to the same extent as they are in the English program, and that the severity of the special education needed influencing their placement.

We have long way to go to keep digging deeper and really sort out what French immersion education looks like for children with special education needs.

So, there is a tendency, there was more kids without a formal label in this data, and so that makes it also harder to work out how we interpret this when we're asking specific questions about autism and trying to understand more deeply what French immersion looks like.

We really need more research looking at match groups, the specific exceptionalities, looking at individual differences, what makes some children succeed in this program, what makes some families leave a program, what makes some families choose one program, and longitudinal comparisons.

We really wanna know how is this child growing, how does it compare to a child's growth and development when they are in another program, English only versus French immersion.

One of the reasons that research in this area is very very difficult is that historically inclusion within French immersion programs has been very limited.

The students with special education needs rarely have access to the same range of education programs that are available in regular English programs.

And so this causes a quite a conundrum for teachers, because teachers are strongly encouraged to use research-based practices to teach students with special education needs, but since there's scant research on this topic, early French immersion teachers are stuck with this lack of sufficient knowledge, because the researchers haven't created it yet, to be inclusive educators.

And so this causes a conflict, and so I think as researchers we have a real responsibility to collaborate with teachers and try and improve on the data that we have for making decisions about French immersion.

And I think we have a responsibility to ensure inclusive educational policies.

So we need to establish best practices for supporting these students with special education needs within French immersion programs, because if we're excluding them from French immersion programs, we're not even in a position to talk about their capacity and I really strongly believe that bilingualism is not something that should be limited to the elite group of students, who has special education needs on the other side of the spectrum, in the gifted side, for example.

We can pause again and I see there's been comments popping up, so it might be a good time to-

-

- There're a number of questions.

One is a clarification question, so I'll go to that one first.

So, when you mentioned, did not participate, can you define that?

Did you mean that they're not involved in French immersion?

- Do you remember where I said that?

- I don't recall exactly, maybe if Caitlin, in previous slide, she said.

- Oh yes, so they do not participate in French immersion.

So the idea is that children with special education needs are often not enrolled in French immersion, and so we can't really fully evaluate what happens if they are, if they're just not in the program.

- Thank you for that clarification.

And some of the other questions, there are several here.

Are any of the assessments conducted in French?

- No, in this particular study, the assessments were done in English, using the Provincial assessments stuff.

And part of the power that is the number.

It gives them a huge sample size, which is really really hard, when we're talking about children with special education needs in a bilingual program.

But the question is very important, because these children have another language, and we have to be aware of how they're (mumbles), so it's certainly that we need to look at moving forward and and it's a very important point.

- Okay, than you.

Do we know how many of the students are English first language speakers?

- We don't.

So in this case that is one of the limitations, of you go (mumbles) you get less information on each individual and it's hard to look at those individual differences.

Most of the research looking at French immersion from children who are speaking another language at home comes of the Toronto area, but it doesn't have a specific focus on children with special education needs.

- Thank you for that.

There was a question about the math results, and it was: do we know if the math data are lower because of language or perhaps because of a learning disability in math?

- We don't at this point know that about these kids, and that's a really important thing to keep in mind, and it's great for suggesting the direction that we need to go.

I also have to say I was not one of the researchers on this, so they may have more detailed explanation on that, because I haven't dug into the data, but it's a very important point that it's really hard to assess math outside of language.

- There're a couple of questions related to teacher, pedagogy and specialization, so there's a question about whether or not some of the research centered around teacher pedagogy related to inclusion as well as these results and then, I guess, a related question: are the English language-of-instruction teachers as specialized in training focused as their French immersion colleagues, might be?

- Okay, so, about pedagogy.

Most of what I've seen in the (mumbles) pedagogy suggests that it, if I understood the question correctly, it's actually more of the case that teachers in English language programs-of-instruction are receiving more professional development on special education and interacting with children with special education needs, than it's the case in French immersion.

And a lot of the literature seems to suggest that this is killer, because there aren't as many children with special education needs in French immersion, it doesn't become as obvious as a need for teachers that teach within French immersion, but my experience of going to schools and talking with teachers and interacting with them is that teachers in French immersion are just as hungry and just as apt to be taking up these opportunities.

I think what is more as the struggle is that a pedagogue level that hasn't been researched, of how do you then implement that specifically within French immersion program.

- Which makes sense.

And there's a comment from one of the participants as well, that the delivery of French immersion throughout Canada is so diverse and different that it's hard to come up with specific definitions or consistent definitions related to, in relation to the research.

- Yeah, for sure.

- There is one other question here as well.

So, was there any information available in this study as to the amount of French support available in the schools?

Perhaps, the area which the study was conducted having a larger culture of French or English bilingual professionals in Atlantic Canada?

- So, that's a really great question, and I don't have that information from the researchers who conducted the study, but these French immersion programs are all housed within the English school board here, so the services are largely conducted in English for children with special education needs, is my understanding of it.

- Okay.

- So, I think it actually does have a lot of parallels with what's available in the Atlantic provinces.

- Great, thank you!

I'll let you continue and I'll keep gathering up questions and we'll ask some more at the next opportunity.

- Okay, so, next case study that I wanna share with you is one that we designed to highlight issues that families in Atlantic provinces often face and particularly if they're French-speaking families.

- [Narrator] Meet Jacques.

He is five years old and was diagnosed with ASD, when he was three.

Jacques lives in Clare Argyle, Nova Scotia, with his mother, father and older sister, who is 10 years old.

Claire Argyle is a predominantly French-speaking community and Jacques's family speaks French at home.

Still, access to health and educational supports in French are sometimes difficult to find in this rural community.

When he was diagnosed with ASD, he attended intensive early intervention in English and his parents paid privately for supports from a French-speaking speech language pathologist.

Today, Jacques has strong receptive language skills in both English and French.

That is he understands what people say to him.

However he struggles to express himself in either language.

The family speech language pathologist believes that Jacques's struggles with expressive language results from his ASD, and not because of his bilingual exposure.

That is, even with monolingual language experiences expressive language would be difficult for him.

His parents must now decide, if they will enroll Jacques for kindergarten in an English or a French school.

They want to make sure that he has the access to as many services as possible, and they are under the impression, that this is more likely within the larger English school board.

They also value English as a second language for the opportunities it may provide later in Jacques's life.

However the French language is an important part of the family's identity and of their daily life.

They fear without the formal support of French language education, that Jacques will not develop the French language skills he needs to fully participate in family life, and that he will lose connection to his Acadian heritage.

What should they do?

Is the bilingual education an option for Jacques?

Does an appropriate program exist for Jacques and his family?

- So, in this one, again, I wanna emphasize, that I think it's really important that we're always saying why is continued French-language support important to this family.

What are the needs of this particular family.

What does this child need to be successful in all aspects of his life.

And so for this particular case we're really trying to talk about what are the services available to French-speaking families.

And does the family need to move their child into an English-speaking program to ensure that he gets the services he needs.

So to just start looking at what the services that are available, there has been a collaboration between Autism Research Center in Dalhousie University and the Reseau Sante looking at what are these issues and what are services that are available to French-speaking Nova Scotians.

And in the beginning of the report, they say, "Whereas bilingualism seems not have a negative impact "on the development of communication "in children with autism," so this means that children if they are bilingual or they are monolingual, language learning can be difficult, but bilingualism does it make it any more difficult, and that's what that first study that we were really looking at showed.

But, "the consequences of shifting to a monolingual code," so dropping one language and only having a monolingual household now, "might have negative effects "on both the parents' maintenance of their cultural heritage "and their emotional relationship with their children." So these are some big things we're talking about having consequences of not supporting bilingualism.

One of the questions that they asked was how do we identify the service needs a francophone families.

So they've conducted this survey of French-speaking families and asked about their needs for specialized services, the importance of each service, the language in which they had received services, and then they conducted follow-up interviews with those respondents who were willing.

This particular data is based on 22 parents and one grandmother of a child with autism, and it really is quite an interesting sample, because although a small sample, it represents a large income bracket, a large education range and it is really looking at families who are speaking French with their children.

Overwhelmingly, these families have a preference for services in French, but parents reported it difficult to find francophone professionals, especially during the first steps of their pathway.

You notice that your child is struggling, you want to get some help, but they were finding it hard to find a French-speaking clinician who could even offer a diagnosis and do the assessment for them.

So, one family, for just to illustrate some illustrative examples, one family felt obliged to be referred to an anglophone psychologist in order to receive the diagnosis, and this is a really important piece, because a diagnosis is the window that opens for services for understanding the struggles your child is having.

A diagnosis is really an important step in the family's journey.

Another family reported having their child undergo early intensive behavioral intervention, because in English, while she was still enrolled in a French schools, we see this mismatch of what the child is receiving for EIBI services and the language of their schooling.

So we have to ask, how is that affecting their transition to school, which this team has upcoming research looking at.

And so in this first study, they had a number of recommendations, thinking about what French-speaking families were need, so we have to keep in mind that they have special and different needs, especially if there's a lack of English proficiency within the family.

Existing autism services should be reinforced, especially in the mental health care and community fields.

So, this is an area which seems to be quite neglected, especially in French, so we need more French and bilingual autism services, and they should not just be available for educationalized or special educationalized fields, but in all areas to facilitate access for French-speaking families.

It's also really important to keep in mind, that the French school system is a focal point for French families, and its connection to services offered there outside would help the families to feel more supported.

So when the family is facing a challenge in that, they have a child with autism, they are really looking for their community's support and then, if they feel they have to move outside of that school system, that's their focal point, this can really be challenging for families.

In report, we need to look at is development of early assessment and diagnosis.

We need professionals who are trained and can do this in French, but we also need a better understanding of what this looks like for French language and French minority language families outside of Quebec.

And so then we really have to work on these adaptive skills of both parents and professionals in order to cope with the current weaknesses of service and adopt the intervention to the needs of the families.

So that we're not neglecting the French language for these families, and really try to build connections at the community level through support services and socialization would help French-speaking families, so that they're not feeling isolated from their communities when they have a child who's diagnosed with autism.

And so, as I mentioned, this research team is looking now specifically at what happens with the services and how that impacts children's transition to schools.

So stay tuned for some updated results from them, and stay rolled in.

Are there any questions about access to service or any of that research we've talked about so far?

- I'm not seeing any questions specific to this research.

So, if you want to continue on, we should be okay for now.

- Okay, I have one more case that I wanna share with you then.

And this is moving to thinking about children who are coming from First Nations backgrounds.

- [Narrator] Levi is a seven-year-old boy from Eskasoni, Nova Scotia.

He and his family are members of the Miꞌkmaq First Nations.

He lives with his mom, dad, older sister and two younger sisters.

The family speak both English and Miꞌkmaq at home.

Levi's mom is a librarian at the local school and volunteers within the community to support Miꞌkmaq language learning.

Levi's sisters can communicate effectively in both languages.

Levi was diagnosed with ASD when he was four years old.

At this time he was minimally verbal, and his family was advised to only use one language with him to avoid confusion.

As a result, Levi's family uses English, when they speak to him.

Today, he seems to understand most of what is said to him, but continues to struggle to share his needs and thoughts with others.

He remains minimally verbal and often uses a picture board to communicate his needs.

Levi's family members, especially his mother, worry about Levi's well-being and fear he is being unfairly disconnected from his culture, language and people.

His mother also struggles to communicate with him about cultural teachings, because his picture board is only in English and only contains day-to-day items from the majority English-speaking culture.

What can Levi's family do in this situation?

Can a more bilingual approach to communication be taken?

How can educators and school specialists support this family?

- So this last time we have some really key issues, (mumbles) we haven't talked about, but again, as I've done with each case study, I wanna emphasize that we wanna talk about what is important to this family and what are their needs.

Of course, in this case, if we were really talking about a child in Eskasoni, they'd also have access to Miꞌkmaq, Miꞌkmaq immersion programs, and I, to be honest, I don't know enough about these programs, I don't know about how children with autism are supported in these programs, so I welcome if there's people attending today, if they know about it, I'd love to hear more possibly offline after we're done.

And we need to know more about what bilingual education programs are available in other regions as well.

So that's one part of it.

And the other part of what's raised with his case study is how do we adopt alternative and augmented communications for multilingual and multicultural contexts.

This is something that is really important to support communication for many children.

Alternative and augmented communications are examples of like the picture board that you saw, so that if a child wants to say that they need to go to the bathroom or that they're hungry or thirsty, they have a picture to point rather than have to say verbally what they want.

We can also see more high-tech versions through an iPad, there's many many ways that communication can be supported through other means that aren't just talking.

And I want to talk a little bit about that.

But first, I wanna come back to thinking about First Nations, Metis and Inuit languages and I want to emphasize that we all have an obligation to support these languages.

In Canada, there are three groups of indigenous people: the First Nations, Metis and Inuit people.

And the Truth and Reconciliation Commission emphasized the need to support First Nations, Metis and Inuit languages as a key aspect of Reconciliation.

There was an extra layer of importance here, of really thinking about what this language in this case study means.

But the reality is that research, specifically about language development of children with autism who are First Nations, Metis or Inuit is severely lacking and so I don't have specifics to tell you about that there, but I think the resounding research that we seen from other groups really suggests that bilingualism is entirely possible for children with autism.

But one area where we haven't seen a lot of research is looking at alternative and augmented communication, and it's important to emphasize that this is not just for monolinguals, but that AAC programs have not always been designed or implemented with bilinguals in mind.

So, they're not just for monolinguals, all people need the ability to communicate their needs, their wants, their thoughts, but these programs have not always been implemented with a bilingual in mind.

So, Soto and Yu looked at this and they interviewed parents, these parents were in the United States and they were English-Spanish bilingual families, and in a number of studies with culturally and linguistically diverse families, so this is them summarizing across the research, and they are saying that parents and other family members expressed an appreciation for the AAC at school.

So the families see how these tools are helping their children, they see the value of them, and they really see how important it is for the children's social and academic participation.

AAC give individuals a way to communicate and be involved and have that social engagement.

But many of these families did not convey a desire or need to use it at home.

When the researchers asked them, "Okay, identify the reasons "why you're having barriers to successfully implementing "AAC strategies at home," the families talked about having language interventions that were only conducted in the school language, so they weren't feeling any support for how to do that in home language.

There was language and cultural barriers between the parents and professionals, so even explaining how do you use an AAC, how does it work was getting lost sometimes.

The device itself, so in the case study that was a picture board, but that could be an iPad, it could be anything that's being used as a tool, have limitations, so in lots of cases that has to do with the vocabulary that's used, so it may not be relevant at home, the same language that you use at school may not be relevant for what you need to communicate at home, it might have culturally inappropriate symbols and messages, and a lot of culturally and linguistically accessible.

So, it needs to be family-centered instruction on how to use the device at home.

So the key thing is that it's not just enough to take that AAC device and translate it, right?

So, when we're creating a bilingual AAC system, it's not enough to simply translate the same vocabulary into a different language.

A truly bilingual AAC system needs to reflect the way children learn and use each language in different communities.

So in our case study example, there needs to be ways to talk about traditional teachings for this child to build a communicative (mumbles) and now it wouldn't be there if we simply translate it from English into Miꞌkmaq.

Well, I'll pause before we jump into the conclusions, and see if there's any questions about that last case study.

- Not seeing any questions right now, but I did get a note from Doctor Smith, saying that the new study that's being conducted is open for participation from Nova Scotia school-based professionals, so if there are Nova Scotia school-based professionals on the webinar who might be interested in taking part in that study, I'll make sure that that information gets sent out with a follow-up survey, so I just wanted to mention that before I forgot, and I'll let you finish off.

- Yes, I will and echo that, though, please do participate.

If we wanna talk about what services are available for French-speaking Nova Scotians and how children are transitioning into the school, the more input and feedback that we have the better, so if that is relevant to you, please do let us know.

So, I hope that through this webinar you, believe me that bilingualism is possible for children with autism.

I think that is really something that I wanted to emphasize.

And today this is the main question that researchers have been asking: can children with autism be bilingual?

The answer from the research, not just our research, but across-the-board, seems to be yes.

Bilingualism is not only possible for children with autism, but in circumstances it may be beneficial.

And what do I mean by beneficial?

Well, the social benefits for me, these are the ones that I think are the most important: maintain connection to family and culture, identity, sense of belonging.

I don't think we can underestimate how important this could be in the long run for children with autism.

Although, the reality is most research to date focuses on children in the preschool and early elementary years, so we're really still need to be moving forward, looking at long-term.

Bilingualism for individuals with autism.

There's also some emerging evidence that suggests there may be some cognitive benefits, in particular, one study showed that executive function among bilingual children with autism was better that their monolingual peers, but who also had autism.

So this research was really carefully conducted, they had lots of controls to make sure their groups were balanced across things that would matter, but this research is still in the early days, and in this particular study it was unclear if the experimental context, so they saw that the bilingual group had improved executive functioning on the task in the lab compared to monolingual children, but when they actually looked at parents' reports of their children's day-to-day executive function, they weren't finding these differences.

It was unclear how much of this translates into a real-world context at this point, but as I said, this research is really in the early stages.

And I think, one thing that hasn't been talked about very much, because the researcher is focused so much on children in the younger ages, is educational and occupational opportunities.

In an increasingly multilingual world, bilingualism is an advantage, and adults with autism are often unemployed or underemployed.

So any opportunity that we have to open up doors for communication, for education, for occupation, I think we should be seriously considering them, especially when the research is suggesting, that bilingualism is very much possible and a reality for individuals with autism.

But we do still need a lot more research with children of varied ages, of varied ability levels, to really start getting that same in-depth picture of bilingual language knowledge, that we have for bilingual development in children with typical language development.

We're still missing that in the autism world.

But I would really like to see us work together to move the conversation forward.

But I would like to see a stop asking if children who have autism can be bilingual, and start saying how do we best support bilingualism in children with autism.

The research is really still very limited about best practices for bilingual education and interventions for children with autism.

In many cases though I think we can safely say that the best practices for interacting with bilingual families, generally are relevant but in the context of autism as well.

So we do have some ideas about and research has shown ways that we can support families who are bilingual and we should take these forward as we start supporting families, who have children with autism, in bilingualism.

So as educators and clinicians, if you can, talk to the child and the family in the language they speak at home.

This is hugely beneficial.

But the reality is this is often not possible.

So even if you don't speak that language, help the family create meaningful opportunities to use the home language with their child.

So you can encourage parents to use the home language, explicitly telling them that you support bilingualism for their family, if it's something about family values means a lot to parents.

And you can go a step further by demonstrating how to use books to create situations for introducing no vocabulary items and language opportunities.

That we often see that families don't have access to books in the home language, but books offer an opportunity to talk about things that aren't in the regular world.

So there aren't lions walking around my house but I can use a picture book to talk about lions with my children and we can show parents, how to do that without having to necessarily speak the language, but just show them how to introduce this bridge language activities, so that they feel the interventions that their child is experiencing in English how relevant in the home language.

We can encourage singing songs, telling stories, and playing in the home language and this really offers the families a way of that they feel that bilingualism is something that you value, and so that's what we've seen in some research of parents saying, "Well, they didn't explicitly tell me not to speak "my home language with the child, "but they didn't show me how to help them," right?

Parents who have children with autism need support in how do they support their children.

And just taking the time to learn about who the family is and who the child is and what language and cultural practices are important to them, can go really long way to helping families.

But what about in the classroom?

Again, we're lacking research in this area.

But I think we can start to ask each other questions like so if you work in a French language school board, if yes, are there found ways to help families find French language services for their child with autism?

We have to keep in mind that French, although an official language federally and provincially in New Brunswick, is a minority language in Atlantic Canada.

This means that without support for French, children are at risk of losing their French language abilities in favor of English, especially if they're receiving overwhelmingly autism supports in English.

Do you work in an English Language School Board?

If yes, show your students and their parents that you value their languages and cultures.

Tell family that you encourage bilingual exposure.

If you can, bring a little of the home language into your classroom, even if it's by learning a greeting in the language, this can help the child feel their language has value and purpose outside of the home.

It's really important to remember that small gestures go a long way.

Do you work in French immersion?

I think in this case, your whole classroom is already set up around teaching a second language.

The trick here is to just remember that children with autism may learn a second language in a different rate as other students in your class, but you can look at their levels of English language abilities, this should help you gauge what we can expect from them in French.

And just because they're not performing at the same level, it doesn't mean that French immersion isn't an appropriate place for them to be.

In all cases, remember that bilingualism may not enhance language learning difficulties.

So what I mean by this is by exposing a child with autism to two languages we're not making the task learning language more difficult, but it's also not gonna alleviate them either, it's not going to be, if a child has trouble learning language, exposing them to two languages ain't gonna suddenly cure them of that difficulty.

So they're gonna struggle to learn language, if they struggle to learn the language, and our job is to best support them.

But the key here is taking away one language is unlikely to help them learn language better, it's not gonna make the situation easier for them and it could have unintended negative consequences, particularly if it disrupts communication between children and their parents.

Moving forward, we need research collaborations between educators, healthcare professionals and researchers.

You have to better document the challenges that educators and healthcare professionals face in supporting bilingualism in children with autism, so that we can determine solutions for these challenges.

It's really important to me that we start working to identify efficient and effective methods to best support bilingual families, who have a child with autism.

So, as I said right now, I think the research has really been stuck on the question of can children with autism be bilingual, and that's really important, we need to know that, but resoundingly, study after study is showing that bilingualism is perfectly possible for children with autism, but now we need to figure out what to do next.

We need to establish one of the long-term development of bilingual children with autism is part about, how do we support these children, not just in the preschool years, but through their whole lives.

Another thing, together we can create a more inclusive and welcoming environment for all families with children with autism, regardless of what language or languages they speak at home.

Put together, in doing this, we can support children with autism reaching their full potential including bilingualism and all of the possibilities that bilingualism affords.

Thank you.

- And thank you so much, Tamara.

If anyone has any questions for Tamara or for Isabel, please do take a minute to take those in the chat box or the Q&A and while you're doing that, I will just take this opportunity to say thank you again, Tamara, Isabel, if you have anything you'd like to add, certainly feel free to unmute your microphone and join us on your webcam, and to Mandy as well, who's able to join us this afternoon, but we certainly appreciate her contribution to today's webinar.

Isabel, is there anything you'd like to add?

(Isabel murmurs)

- And say that I really appreciate the level of interest in this topic, (mumbles) compassion to some of those (mumbles) kids with autism, these families really help (mumbles) behind in terms of our attention, so really looking forward to be back, and that I hope some more (mumbles) patient in study, that'll help us plan with educators and with (mumbles) something (mumbles) to try and generate a stronger picture for kids with autism.

- Great and thank you so much for passing along that information about the study.

I'll share that with folks immediately following the webinar along with the feedback survey link, so anyone who's interested in that will have access to that information.

- Thanks very much and just to say that if there's anybody joining (mumbles) and healthcare sector rather than the education sector, we will be launching another survey from same study but for those professionals (mumbles).

- Excellent.

- Feel free to get in touch with me if you (mumbles).

- Okay, and thank you all as well for sharing your email addresses for anyone who may want to follow up with you.

I really think it's so exciting, the opportunities for collaboration, but the research that's being done in this area, particularly the pieces being done here in Atlantic Canada, it's always nice to celebrate homegrown research, and Tamera we certainly consider you one of our own here in Atlantic Canada for the time you spent here and the work you've done, and also look forward to supporting the work that you're doing there in Carleton as well.

So thank you to all of you for joining us this afternoon, I'm sure we will follow up further and have some continued discussion on the topic.

We'd love to have you back as more research unfolds as well, because it's an area that I know as educational professionals many of the folks online are having some of these discussions and questions from parents and families and teachers they support, and some of her speech language pathologists who are online as well, for all able to communicate a common message, the consistent message to families that is based on what we know about the science, and I think that that just serves us all well.

So we thank you for sharing that with us today.