Multilingualism and anxiety in people with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

Multilingualism and anxiety are core research and policy issues (DfE, 2018). Anxiety disorders, a feeling of unease, worry or fear, are the most prevalent mental disorders and are associated with immense healthcare costs. Autism affects communication and behaviour (DSM-V, 2013). 1/100 people (700,000 people in the UK) have ASD. 50% of them exhibit significant anxiety, disrupting their day-to-day function. Anxiety exacerbates social withdrawal and repetitive behaviours. Left untreated, anxiety leads to depression and self-injury -early recognition/treatment convey better prognosis.

39% of the UK population is multilingual (EC, 2012). Researchers, practitioners, and politicians assembled at the House of Commons called for comprehensive policies recognising the UK as a multilingual society, and ensuring provisions are developed to protect languages (May, 2019).

There are over 1.5million learners with English as an Additional Language (EAL) in the UK. 150,000 multilingual pupils are estimated to have ASD, ~75,000 presenting with severe anxiety.

Benefits of multilingualism in people with typical cognition have been well-established. These benefits appear early and persist across the lifespan. Multilinguals perform better in memory and attention, experience slower cognitive-ageing, develop dementia 3–6 years later, and recover better from stroke (Bak, 2016). Previous research concluded that multilinguals have less anxiety.

However, if being multilingual reduces anxiety also in autistic individuals, is yet to be examined.

Lead Academic at Lead University

Dr Ozge Ozturk University of Sheffield

Lead Academics at other Universities

Dr Liz Littlewood, University of York

Dr Paula Clarke, University of Leeds

Other Staff associated with this project

Prof Elizabeth Milne, University of Sheffield, Department of Psychology

Prof Patricia Cowell, Health Sciences School, Division of Human Communication Sciences

Emma Morgan, University of Sheffield, Department of Psychology,

Marta Borowka, University of Sheffield, Health Sciences School, Division of Human Communication Sciences,

 Sarah Cobbe, University of Leeds, School of Education,

 Dr Megan Freeth, University of Sheffield, Department of Psychology

Dr Meesha Warmington, University of Sheffield, The School of Education

Dr Judith Hebron, University of Leeds, School of Education

Dr David Marshall, University of York, Centre for Reviews and Dissemination

Dr Lisa Henderson, University of York, Department of Psychology

Other Partners

Prof Li Wei, University College London, UCL Institute of Education

Dr Napoleon Katsos, University of Cambridge, Theoretical and Applied Linguistics

Dr Thomas Bak, University of Edinburgh, Department of Psychology

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