Working with Linguistically Diverse Families in Early Intervention: Misconceptions and Missed Opportunities

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Traditionally, speech-language pathologists (SLPs) and other professionals have held the belief that children with speech and language disabilities are unable to successfully learn more than one language. It is often automatically assumed that exposing young children to two languages will cause confusion and significant delays in the learning of any language. Because of this belief, many families have been influenced to give up their home language in their efforts to ensure their child's successful learning of English. Yet it has been documented that children who are learning two languages simultaneously can succeed and often become balanced bilinguals, if the exposure and learning opportunities to both languages are maintained. However, the ongoing beliefs and practice of many SLPs as they provide guidance and recommendations about language learning to parents and other professionals are not consistent with implications from current research about bilingualism, especially as it pertains to young children with learning challenges. This article discusses the inconsistencies regarding these myths about early language learning. It summarizes research and literature within the context of evidenced-based practice that question the idea that young children with disabilities cannot learn more than one language. In this article, perspectives from parents as well as researchers support an “additive” approach to language learning that values diversity, engages in information sharing with families, and supports decisions that are made by families regarding their child's language(s). In this way, parents are empowered and enabled to make decisions about what language(s) their children will learn.

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