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Bilingual children with special educational needs and disabilities

Occasionally, children can have unavoidable issues with language and speech development. As a care provider, you have an opportunity to work with them to improve their communication.

Reasons why the child may be having difficulties with language

  • limited experience of English
  • undiagnosed hearing difficulties
  • limited opportunities for play and language use
  • developmental delay or disordered language development
  • medical problems
  • environmental factors, for example, trauma, housing conditions
  • learning difficulties.

Steps to take before referring to speech and language therapy

  • listen to the parent or carer's concerns
  • accurately measure the child's progress against their initial assessment
  • ensure that you have the right support mechanisms in place
  • consider the factors above and refer to appropriate services. for example, audiology.

Strategies to help

  • use gestures, facial expressions, and body language to support your verbal message
  • keep your language simple and instructions short
  • only talk about the here and now - not the past or future
  • keep repeating unfamiliar words so the child gets used to hearing them
  • get down to the child’s level, so that they can see your face and see that you are listening
  • consider small group work for the child, targeting specific vocabulary and speech activities.

Supporting bilingual children with Autism Spectrum Disorder

  • bilingual children with autism do not experience additional delays in language development and can manage vocabulary in more than one language
  • using two or more languages with a child with autism spectrum disorder helps to develop their social skills
  • bilingual autistic children tend to use more gestures to communicate than those only exposed to a single language
  • even if a child is non-verbal, they should have the opportunity to learn other languages spoken at home.

Strategies to help

  • use the child's name to gain their attention
  • simplify your language and keep sentences short and to the point
  • use the 10 second rule to allow children additional time to process what you have said and respond
  • use visual aids to support the child's understanding
  • model speech back to the child and expand on what they have said.

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