Bringing School Home: Understanding the Interactional Resources of a Bilingual Child with ASD

Poster Presentation
Thursday, May 2, 2019: 5:30 PM-7:00 PM
Room: 710 (Palais des congres de Montreal)
S. R. Cohen1, J. Miguel2, K. Bottema-Beutel3, G. Oliveira4 and R. Osoria5, (1)University of California - San Diego, La Jolla, CA, (2)UC San Diego, San Diego, CA, (3)Lynch School of Education, Boston College, Chestnut Hill, MA, (4)Boston College, Chestnut Hill, MA, (5)UC San Diego, La Jolla, CA
Background: Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) engage in social interactions differently from their typically developing peers. The ways in which bilingual children with ASD socially engage with others is not well understood. Bilingual language practices may be shaped by families’ contexts and childrearing practices (Yu, 2016). We utilized Bakhtin’s notion of heteroglossia - varied speech voices in context -- to examine the interactional implications of code-switching within an immigrant, bilingual family that includes a child with ASD.

Objectives: The purpose of this study was to examine how code switching is used as an interactional resource during parent-child interactions among immigrant parents and their child with ASD.

Methods: To understand certain features of code-switching -- the alternation between two languages -- we examined transcripts to answer the following questions: (1) Who initiated code-switching; (2) What was the activity context during code-switching; (3) How was code-switching used in conversation; and (4) What did code-switching appear to do for the interaction? Over three hours of video data were collected from an immigrant, predominantly Spanish-speaking family who lives in a rural border town. The primary caregiver was Beatriz (names are pseudonyms), a 32 year-old unemployed mother working on her bachelor’s degree. The child, Herman, was a 5 year-old boy with autism. The father, David, was a 31 year old merchant.

Results: Beatriz initiated code-switching 21 times; David, 4 times; and Herman, 46 times. The alternation primarily occurred from Spanish to English during structured interactional activities like book reading, homework, or in conversations about animals and colors. Code-switching also occurred during pretend play like play-doh, car play, and preparing pretend meals.

The form of code-switching included single word insertions -- a second language word inserted into a primary language sentence (Moyer, 2013). Herman inserted a single English word (e.g., red, dinosaur, pirate) into a Spanish conversation. Alternations -- secondary language sentences or clauses utilized within a speaker’s turn -- were also utilized. Herman asked his mother a question in English and the mother responded in Spanish.

To understand interactional implications, code-switching was used as a contextualization cue (Gumperz, 1982). After playing with play-doh, Beatriz asked the children to clean up. Herman sang the “clean up song” in English as he cleaned up the play doh. Herman enacted a song that he learned outside of home (likely at school) within a similar interactional context at home. Code-switching brought school interactional contexts into the home. Code-switching was also used as a metalinguistic pedagogical tool to encourage Herman to learn new words and practice the second language (Waring, 2009). During a book reading activity, David and Herman communicated in English to describe the pictures. When Herman did not know an English translation for a word (i.e.,“disfraz”) he asked David to translate it to English (“costume”).

Conclusions: This case study exemplifies how Herman and his parents used code-switching as an interactional resource within family interactions. These findings indicate the need for interventionists to capitalize on the linguistic strengths of bilingual families to support language and communication.