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Narrative abilities in bilingual children with autism Yang, Susan Ker-Tong


Storytelling requires the integration of cognitive, linguistic, and sociocultural knowledge, and because autism undercuts competence in each of these domains, narratives provide a valuable means to investigate the nature of such deficits in autism. This is the first study on narrative abilities in bilingual children with autism, which will contribute to our knowledge of language development and the effects of bilingualism in this population. The study compares the narrative abilities of 13 monolingual English children with autism, 10 bilingual Mandarin-English children with autism, and 9 typically-developing bilingual Mandarin-English children matched on nonverbal intelligence and language ability. All children were asked to tell a story based on the wordless picture book, Frog, Where are You? (Mayer, 1969), and the bilingual children were asked to generate a story in both languages. The narratives were analyzed according to their global structure, local linguistic structure, and the child’s ability to provide evaluative comments. Comparisons between the monolingual children with autism and bilingual children with autism revealed no group differences, suggesting that bilingualism is not likely to have a negative effect on language development in children with autism. Comparisons between the two bilingual groups on the global structure revealed that bilingual children with autism included fewer story episodes and fewer types of orientation. However, both groups were able to grasp the theme of the story. With regard to the local structure, bilingual children with autism told stories of similar length, but employed less complex syntax and fewer types of conjunction, and also made more reference errors than their typically developing peers. Finally, the two groups did not differ significantly on the evaluative aspects of narratives. Results of this study demonstrated that bilingual children with autism did find certain aspects of narrative challenging, but their performance was comparable to that of monolingual children with autism, suggesting that bilingualism does not further impede language development in this population and that verbal children with autism have the capacity to be bilingual.

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