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Bilingualism and Children with Communication Disabilities

presented by Laura Epstein & Betty Yu

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Can children with communication disabilities become bilingual? Will bilingualism exacerbate their difficulties or further delay their development? While there is ample data on the advantages of bilingualism for typically developing children, many professionals and parents are still fearful of speaking more than one language with children who have significant communication disorders they worry that bilingualism would be too taxing for children who are already struggling with language, or may further delay the acquisition of one or both languages. In this course, we will review the current research on bilingual children with communication disabilities, including children with specific language impairment and autism spectrum disorders. We will also answer frequently asked questions about bilingualism in children communication disabilities as well as offer perspectives from parents of children with communication disabilities from bilingual families. It is the aim of this course to dispel common myths about bilingualism in children with communication disorders and to promote family-centered and culturally and linguistically responsive services for children with communication disabilities from diverse linguistic backgrounds.

Meet Your Instructors

  • Laura Epstein, Ph.D., CCC-SLP

    Laura Epstein, Ph.D., CCC-SLP, is an Associate Professor, Program Coordinator and School Internship Coordinator at San Francisco State University. Her research and clinical focus is on Spanish-bilingual language development/disorders and inclusion. She was California Speech-Language-Hearing Association Convention Program Co-Chair, 2014 & 2015, and Volunteer Committee Co-Chair in 2016. She was awarded the CSHA Diversity Award, 2011, and received the California Healthcare Foundation Leadership Fellowship, 2010.

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  • Betty Yu, Ph.D., CCC-SLP

    Betty Yu is an Associate Professor in the Department of Special Education & Communicative Disorders. Before joining the faculty at San Francisco State, she practiced as a speech-language therapist primarily serving young children and their families in minority communities. Her research interest is in how children's language development interfaces with the development of sociocultural competence. Her current research focuses on the communication experiences of children with autism spectrum disorders and their families within bilingual contexts. She is a member of the Conversation Analysis Research in Autism (CARA) research group. She teaches courses related to language development, atypical language development, cultural and linguistic diversity, intervention in young children, and counseling in Communicative Disorders. The emphasis of her clinical instruction is on the provision of family-centered services to support communication development in children on the autism spectrum. She is the co-director of Project Common Ground, a project funded by the U.S. Department of Education to prepare speech-language therapists to work effectively with diverse children on the autism spectrum.

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Chapters & Learning Objectives

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  1. Bilingualism and Communication Disabilities: FAQs and Evidence-Based Answers

    1. Bilingualism and Communication Disabilities: FAQs and Evidence-Based Answers

    Bilingual families of children with communication disabilities are frequently advised to speak only English with the children. This advice reflects the misinformation that persists around bilingualism in children with communication disabilities. The aim of this chapter is to shed light on what the current research literature says on the topic.

  2. Parent Perspectives on Bilingualism and Children with Communication Disabilities

    2. Parent Perspectives on Bilingualism and Children with Communication Disabilities

    This chapter builds on the previous one by applying the research findings to address three frequently asked questions about bilingualism in children with communication disabilities. Specifically, it addresses the questions of: a) Will hearing more than one language confused the children? b) Will using the home language hinder the learning of English? and c) Will the mixing of languages confuse children?

  3. Question and Answer Session

    3. Question and Answer Session

    What languages caregivers use with their children with disabilities is a complex and personal matter. Professionals often advise parents to speak particular languages to their children without an understanding of the perspectives of families, which often leads to disruption in family dynamics. The aim of this chapter is to share some perspectives of parents from minority-language families regarding their language choices with their children with disabilities.