Life and Times in Bangalore totally revived the logical problem solver in me with her kick ass response to my rant/lament on Inclusion below
I have been wondering about multilingualism and the best approach to effective communication strategies, especially alternative communication in children/people with language and communication difficulties such as Autism. I am putting my thoughts out here for discussion and exploration.
India is a multilingual society with English and Hindi as official languages of the Republic of India and 22 officially recognised regional languages.
Since states are mostly divided along socio-linguistic lines each state has its own official language. This means many children living in urban areas grow up speaking/hearing at least two if not three languages.
I currently live in Gujarat, for some reason many of the families I work with are non-Gujarati, all of them go to English medium schools. The trend I generally see is that they speak most fluently and understand best their mother tongues (Punjabi, Malayalam, Marathi, Tamil, Gujarati) or Hindi and in most cases can barely read and write them. The only language they can comfortably write is English but they are unable to comprehend or express themselves in English. This results in children not having one language they can read, write and understand with equal fluency. 
In my experience teaching students with Autism I find this could be a barrier for the following reasons:
  • It affects their capacity to use other forms of communication when verbal communication is difficult or absent. (such as AAC devices, text to speech software, written communication)
  • It limits their capacity to inform themselves on the internet, through newspapers, books, etc. (easier to find books in English on any topic than in regional languages or even Hindi)
  • It affects their understanding of school work as they study in English medium schools, this in turn could reduce their interest in school work.
  • I believe the internet is a great tool for making friends, finding like-minded people and self-advocacy. It is in a way the future of the world. Most of the internet is in English, it reduces access to this amazing and important resource.
  • It reduces their communication with society other than their family and in turn reduces the opportunity for other persons with autism, professionals and parents to learn from the life experiences of people on the spectrum in the long run.

Several aspects complicate this choice of language thing:

  • While some schools teach purely in English, several English medium schools in Ahmedabad and other Gujarati cities use Hindi as language of instruction, which limits children’s exposure to English and will complicate things if they don’t understand Hindi.
  • Often parents are not very fluent in English themselves and find it easier explaining things in their mother tongue or Hindi to their children. Same goes for professionals
  • English alone or even English and mother tongue might not suffice for children in urban India as many people especially our service providers – shopkeepers, chemists, autowallahs, bus conductors, in India do not speak English.

This being said, I know children with autism who speak and understand over 3 languages. My question is for those who find it difficult.

I am so lost about what could be a strategic language choice for an autistic child’s development into an individual who is able to communicate his/her needs, likes and dislikes, discomforts and pleasures but also be independent in his/her daily life. Of course all this according to each child’s individual personality and ability level.
I just want to make sure they have the appropriate tool to be able to!

I will add resources to this article as and when I find them.

For the moment here is an article on bilingualism and autism shared by It’s Bridget’s Word which talks about how it aides communication development in children with autism.

HERE is another article the one above led me to.

Please share thoughts, experiences, comments, critiques, arguments.