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Monday, 3 December 2012

Raising multilingual children with SPD

Have you heard about SPD? It stands for Sensory Processing Disorder. Each and one of us has to deal with sensory impulses, like sounds, touch, light, or even just knowing where our bodies are in space. Mostly, we deal with these impulses appropriately. Sometimes, we overact or underreact to them, and when this affects our daily life and makes functioning difficult, it is what is called Sensory Processing Disorder.

I have just read the book “The Out-of-Sync Child” by Carol Kranowitz, about children with SPD. I wanted to understand Julia’s sensitivity to certain objects, textures and sounds. I wouldn’t see a disorder in many cases she describes as such. But it got me thinking about multilingualism and disorders and since I have experience with some sensory issues (in my children and myself), I can describe my experiences here.

So how can SPD affect a child’s bilingualism? Well, let’s just say that SPD can affect all aspects of the child’s development, including speech development and including multilingualism. A child who is clumsy might avoid other people for the fear of being laughed at. A child who is a sensory thrill seeker can often be considered aggressive and a trouble-maker- and for multilingual children acceptance and the way they feel about themselves is especially crucial. Children with sensory integration issues can be more fidgety or easier to distract. As a result, parents spend more time repeating, or focusing on the most important part of what they want to say, thus reducing the quality input a child can get in a language.

Sensory integration issues might affect a child’s language apparatus, such as the muscles used for producing speech. Chewing, biting, and eating chunky food are good exercise for producing clear, understandable sounds. But what if your child rejects these kinds of food? They may end up needing speech therapy, but this is not necessarily the case. Except in multilingual children it is a more complicated choice- in which language? How to find a therapist who is sympathetic and understands how multilingual children work?

Children with sensory integration issues might feel tired at the end of the day because they need so much energy and concentration to do mundane everyday things like opening doors or getting in and out of trams. And so, they would be less likely to talk or want to be talked to- again, this results in decreased language input.

Children want to belong- and they already feel different by their sensory preferences. Multilingualism can only make a child seem weirder if others don’t speak their languages. This is not to say that parents should stop raising their children multilingually! Instead, it will require more work on the parent’s part.

There are positive aspects as well. In case of multilingual children, the fact of switching between languages is great mental gymnastics, and pronouncing the many sounds of the languages could also improve their speech. Many children with SPD are very gifted- and their gift might show the ability to learn many languages.

I haven’t found any information on SPD and multilingualism. I am not sure whether it is a disorder and I don’t always agree with Kranowitz’s diagnosis. But it might explain some preferences we or our children may have, or explain our children’s behaviour, provided that you don’t see it as a disorder, just as the fact that the child really needs certain sensory inputs.

Do you have any experiences with this? Can you share?

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