Executive Function Skills in Bilinguals and Monolinguals With Low and High Levels of Autistic-like Traits

Speaker: Draško Kašćelan, University of Leeds

Abstract: A large body of literature has indicated executive function benefits in bilinguals (see Barac et al., 2014 for a review). On the other hand, the same area has been reported as an area of difficulty in individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) (Schuh & Eigisti, 2012). Considering these contrasting cognitive profiles, the question emerges of whether cognitive benefits of bilingualism could have an ameliorating effect on cognition in ASD. Recent work has shown cultural bias in the recognition of autistic behaviour (Burke et al., 2015). As bilinguals often grow up biculturally, there is a question whether autistic traits can be recognised in bilinguals in the same way as in monolinguals due to potential cultural biases. Consequently, relying on the comparison between the cognitive performance of individuals with and without the clinical diagnosis of ASD might not be most reliable, as many bilinguals could be left without the diagnosis due to the cultural bias. Therefore, the current study takes a general population approach and compares a group of children with a low level of autistic-like traits (ALTs)  (25 bilinguals, 28 monolinguals) to children with a high level of ALTs (19 bilinguals, 22 monolinguals) on a series of three executive function tasks (participant age range: 5;11-11;11). The study finds evidence for three trends: (a) some evidence for bilingual advantage, (b) some evidence for monolingual advantage in interaction with low ALTs, and (c) no difference between the groups no matter the language status (bilingual or monolingual) or the level of ALTs (low or high). The results and future directions are discussed. 

Speaker bio: Draško is a post-doctoral research assistant at the University of Leeds working with Prof. Cécile De Cat (PI) and five Co-Is on an ESRC project looking at quantifying bilingual experience in children. Their aim is to reach a consensus among researchers, speech and language therapists, and educators on what aspects of bilingual experience need to be measured and find an optimal way to achieve this goal. This consensus will inform the design of an online questionnaire tapping into several aspects of bilingual language experience to a different level of detail. The questionnaire will allow automatic calculations of current and cumulative language experience and it will be made available in 13 languages.

Draško’s previous work and interests include bilingualism, autism, autistic-like traits, language disorders, figurative language, pragmatics, code-switching, executive functions, and theory of mind.