Bilingualism, Executive Function, and the Brain: Implications for Autism

Celia Romero, Lucina Q. Uddin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is associated with marked heterogeneity with respect to the development of executive function abilities. The bilingual advantage refers to the observation that individuals who speak two languages perform better on executive function tasks than monolinguals under some circumstances. There is not yet consensus, however, as to whether this advantage can be reliably demonstrated, nor is there consensus regarding under which conditions it emerges. Bilingual and monolingual children with ASD have comparable developmental outcomes, particularly in the areas of core ASD symptoms, cognitive function, and language. Still, despite the potential advantages that bilingualism may confer, clinicians commonly advise against providing a bilingual environment for children with ASD. The purpose of the present review is to provide an up-to-date assessment of the limited literature on bilingualism in children with ASD in order to inform evidence-based practice. Studies suggest a potential bilingual advantage in ASD in the areas of nonverbal intelligence quotient, adaptive functioning, and expressive vocabulary. A limited yet growing literature provides preliminary evidence for enhanced executive function ability in some children with ASD. Taken together, current evidence suggests that although a bilingual advantage may not be universally present in typical development, it may manifest under specific circumstances, conferring advantage for populations in which executive function is compromised. Further work is needed to develop consistent, evidence-based guidelines around language recommendations for families of children with ASD and to better understand the cognitive and brain mechanisms giving rise to the bilingual advantage in clinical developmental populations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)513-531
Number of pages19
JournalNeurobiology of Language
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 23 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • Autism spectrum disorder
  • Bilingualism
  • Cognition
  • Dual language
  • Executive function
  • Second language exposure

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Linguistics and Language
  • Neurology


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