My 3.5 yo godson has Down Syndrome and is being raised in a bilingual household. The second language is very important to their family as they are deeply involved with cultural events and institutions in their native language. They use both languages at home, interchangeably. With my godson, they always use English first for simple commands ("no drop cup," "eat" etc.) but also say it again in the 2nd language. Their school speech therapist believes that they should not use a second language - their son does not yet respond to his name, and she feels that they are further delaying his progress by using two languages. Others have supported their choice and it appears there's quite a bit of research out there that says it is not a bad thing.
As her friend looking to support her as she makes this decision, I'd love to hear any other families experiences with bilingual parenting SN kids. I read this board quite a bit for my son, who has ADD, and always appreciate the advice!
Speech therapist here! While there is limited research on children with language learning difficulties (such as those with DS) and growing up in a bilingual home, what is known suggests that in homes where bilingualism is strongly supported, the child with a disability should be raised as bilingual. (When I say limited research, I mean that we know great deal about how monolingual children with DS develop language, less about bilingual children.) My feeling is that this child deserves the chance to communicate with his cultural community.
That said, something about the school therapist's assessment of the child may have lead her to make this recommendation, BUT many therapists (especially monolingual ones, in my experience) aren't very confident in working with bilingual children.
Given that it sounds like the child is having trouble understanding, regardless of the language used, have the parents thought about providing pictures or signs to help the child understand? Many children with DS benefit from augmentative modes of communication like signs, pictures, or software programs/apps specifically designed for communicating. There is excellent research showing the benefits of using augmentative communication to improve understanding and expression, including increasing the child's speech output.
Their school speech therapist believes that they should not use a second language - their son does not yet respond to his name, and she feels that they are further delaying his progress by using two languages. Others have supported their choice and it appears there's quite a bit of research out there that says it is not a bad thing.
I work with special needs kids, and some of them are English Language Learners. It's tough for them. None the less, I can't imagine anyone at our school telling a family to stop speaking their language to their child (in our cases, it really isn't a choice -- we have families in which one or more of the parents aren't fluent in English).
Is his name pronounced the same in both languages? I'm not following the speech therapist's logic that speaking to him to two languages is keeping him from responding to his name. I can think of other challenges it could create, but that isn't one of them. Quite the opposite, it sounds like he is bathed in language, which has to be very helpful for him.
The bottom line is that this is THEIR child, and if they want to speak to him in two languages, they get to. They don't need the speech therapist's permission. If they need a way to end the conversations with regarding this issue, something along the lines of "I don't feel that statement reflects respect for our cultural background." Or, "We think that problem is caused by him having Down's Syndrome, not being part of a minority culture." Then just sit and stare, and I suspect the speech therapist will find something else to talk about. Like the previous poster, I wonder if this issue is caused by the speech therapist having mostly experience with mono-lingual children and families.
I also agree that alternate means of communication might be very helpful. One of my kiddos at school is 10 and has Downs and is very much a part of his family and community, but he is super difficult to understand (in any language). We continue to work on speech with him, but when the water hits the wheel, he uses American Sign to tell us what is really going on. He understands both English and Spanish, though. One can't help wonder if a child like him does as well as he does BECAUSE he is part of a real community, and he has many many people in his life who value him and accept him for who he is.
Thanks so much for your responses - and sorry it took me so long to see them. Your responses were exactly what I was thinking but without any sort of expertise to back then up. It sounds like the therapist's POV is that hearing things in 2 different languages might be preventing him from actually understanding what language is. I.e. it's stopping him from connecting that the sounds they are making represent an object or a concept. They have used a private therapist also who has not expressed this concern. I loved your suggestions on how to advocate with the school therapist! Their community is super important and my friend is devastated by the idea that he may be further alienated with a language barrier.
I also wanted to say - they are using ASL (both parents were fluent in ASL before having kids) and he is using some signs. At school they use images for choices as well as repetition. I know they do some of that at home but not sure how much.
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