Autism & Bilingualism: Practitioner Webinar

We organised an information webinar on bilingualism in autism, specifically designed for clinicians. The webinar took place on the 20th April 2021, 4:30-6pm, on Teams Live.

Here is the recording of the webinar:

(also accessible on this page, with subtitles).

If  have attended the webinar or watched it before the 30th April 2021, please complete this short post-webinar form: 

We have now also released:


  • 4:30 pm – Welcome & Introduction
  • 4:35 pm – How does bilingualism shape cognition in childhood autism? – Dr Shereen Sharaan – University of Edinburgh

Both executive function and social cognition have been evidenced to impact quality of life in autistic people. Shereen will summarize findings on the impact of bilingualism on these domains in childhood autism, drawing on the current evidence-base as a whole. Findings will be discussed in the context of different: measures (parent reports, teacher reports, direct assessments), analyses (i.e., analysing autistic children as a group versus analysing autistic children as individuals), and matching criteria (e.g., non-verbal IQ). Finally, cognitive theories of autism will be discussed in light of these findings, to further understanding of autism in a theoretical and clinical sense.

  • 4:55 pm – Quantifying Bilingual Experience (Q-BEx) questionnaire: Tool presentation and its use in clinical practice – Dr Draško Kašćelan – University of Leeds

Working with bilingual children often requires documenting their language background. The existing tools used for these purposes vary widely. Importantly, most of them have been created by researchers while the needs of practitioners (teachers and SLTs) might have been overlooked. In this talk, I present an online questionnaire for quantifying bilingualism in children and informed by an international group of researchers, teachers, and SLTs. The questionnaire will be freely available in thirteen languages and include estimates of child’s language exposure/use. The tool comes with a set of risk assessment questions, which will be particularly useful to SLTs working with bilinguals.

  • 5:10 pm – One language or two? Lived experiences of bilingual children on the autism spectrum and their families – Dr Katie Howard – University of Exeter

Is it helpful or harmful for children on the autism spectrum to grow up speaking more than one language? And what are the consequences of such language decisions on their education and family life? This presentation will seek to address these important questions by considering the experiences of autistic children growing up in multilingual households. We will also consider the perspectives of parents and educators, drawing on the findings of three qualitative studies on bilingualism in autism. This presentation will be delivered as a pre-recorded video, but please do email Katie if you have any questions – !

  • 5:25 pm – Bilingualism as lived: How bilingualism shapes the life and social skills of autistic adults – Dr Bérengère Digard – University of Edinburgh

Autistic people often have specific difficulties navigating the social world, which are linked with differences in social cognitive skills. In non-autistic people the development of social cognitive skills is linked with language, and seems to be stimulated by bilingualism. Can bilingualism also influence social skills in autism? This talk will describe how bilingualism shapes the life and skills of autistic people throughout their life. We will review how autistic bilingual adults themselves perceive the effect bilingualism has on their life. We will also address some preliminary evidence showing how early bilingualism can have a positive and long-lasting influence on autistic people’s social cognitive skills.

  • 5:40 pm – Where do we go from here? – Panel discussion hosted by Dr Rachael Davis – University of Edinburgh, with Sonny Hallett, Autistic Mutual Aid Society Edinburgh

The final part of the event will be a panel discussion between the presenters and the attendees. We hope to learn about your needs and concerns as much as we hope you will learn about our research. 

  • 6:00 pm – Close

Meet the speakers

Dr Shereen Sharaan - Postdoctoral Researcher - University of Edinburgh

Dr Shereen SharaanShereen gained research experience in bilingualism-related psychology projects at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels. Moreover, Shereen had been actively involved in the field of autism for 10 years as a support worker. Shereen recently obtained her PhD with a focus on executive functions in bilingual autistic children. Her research suggests that bilingualism does not harm executive function skills in autistic individuals, and can in fact, provide opportunities to positively impact cognitive development. Shereen’s work is the first to include a research sample from the Arab world, thus diversifying autism research – which has mainly focused on white and middle-class samples.

Visit Shereen’s page here. Twitter: @ShereenSharaan

Dr Draško Kašćelan - Postdoctoral Research Assistant - University of Leeds

Dr Draško Kašćelan

Draško is a linguist whose research has focused on bilingualism, cognition, figurative language, autistic-like traits, and autism. His other areas of interest include code-switching, pragmatic language development, and language impairment. Currently, he is based at the University of Leeds, where he is working on developing a questionnaire for quantifying bilingual experience in children as a part of the Q-BEx project (

Visit Draško’s page here. Twitter: @DraskoKascelan

Dr Katie Howard - Lecturer- University of Exeter


Dr Katie HowardKatie’s research interests lie at the intersection between multilingualism, mental health and neurodevelopmental conditions. Her PhD sought to illuminate the experiences of children, families and educators when autism meets bilingualism. This research was done as part of the MEITS (Multilingualism: Empowering Individuals, Transforming Societies) project. Katie currently works as a lecturer in Psychology and Education at the University of Exeter, specialising in mental health in educational settings. Prior to this, Katie gained experience as a secondary school teacher in Modern Foreign Languages, a mentor for students with disabilities and mental health difficulties, and a translation trainee at the European Parliament.

Visit Katie’s page here. Twitter: @KatieB_Howard

Dr Bérengère Digard - Engagement Officer - University of Edinburgh


Dr Berengere DigardBérengère originally studied Biology and Neurobiology in Lyon (France), and moved to Edinburgh for her PhD. Her interdisciplinary research focuses on the social life and social cognitive skills of autistic people. She is particularly interested in how life experiences, such as bilingualism, can shape autistic people’s life and cognitive abilities.

Visit Bérengère’s page here. Twitter: @BerengereDigard

Dr Rachael Davis - Postdoctoral Research Fellow - University of Edinburgh


Dr Rachael Davis

Rachael Davis is a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Edinburgh. She is a developmental psychologist and her research focuses on autism, cognition, bilingualism and cultural identity. She is passionate about using participatory research methods to improve outcomes for autistic people and those who support them.

Visit Rachael’s page here. Twitter: @RachaelVDavis

Sonny Hallett - Co-founder and mental health advisor - Autistic Mutual Aid Society Edinburgh


Sonny Hallett is the co-founder and mental health advisor of AMASE, Autistic Mutual Aid Society Edinburgh. They are also a trainee counsellor and autistic advocate. You can read their medium piece on autistic connection and communication here. Twitter: @scrappapertiger

Visit Sonny’s page here. Twitter: @Scrappapertiger

This webinar was organised in partnership with the Salvesen Mindroom Research Centre, with the support of Bilingualism Matters, and the financial aid of the College of Medicine & Veterinary Medicine.

For any question, please email Bérengère at