Introduce yourself and your family.
My name is Nina. I´m from the UK but have been living in Spain for 15 years with my British partner. We have a 7 year old son who was born here in Spain. He was officially diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum when he was 6.
What languages do you speak ?
My partner and I speak English and Castellano Spanish. My son speaks English, Castellano Spanish and Valenciano Spanish which is similar to Catalan Spanish and only spoken in the Valencia region.
How many and which ones do you speak on a daily basis ?
We only speak English at home. My son started seeing a specialist at 18 months old because I realised he was not learning in the same way other children around him were. He was completely non-verbal until he was about 4 and had extra help at school and saw a specialist twice a week to help him with his speech and learning. The specialist instructed us to only speak English at school and to let him learn Spanish at school and outside the home.
Are you teaching your children these languages ?
I only teach my son my native language which is English.
Do you homeschool, if so, how do you incorporate the languages into learning ?
No I don’t homeschool but I do a lot of activities which are learning based at home at weekends and in the holidays
If not, does your child attend a bilingual or multi-language school ?
The school my son goes to is a Montessori type school with learning based on play and experiment. Classes are taught in Valenciano Spanish with English and Castellano Spanish as additional languages. His first school taught only in Castellano Spanish but being the only foreigner and being on the spectrum meant that inevitably he was bullied. We didn’t know at the time as he couldn’t communicate. We just knew he was unhappy at school and wasn’t integrating with the other children. When he was almost 5 we moved to a different part of Spain, to a school with a larger mix of nationalities. It´s proved to be the best move we could have made for him. He is a completely different child now.
What have been challenges so far ?
The worry about if we are doing the right thing for a child who already struggles by putting him into a multi-lingual school. I´ve had the mom-guilt. I´ve been eaten up with fear about whether or not he can cope. I watched him as he struggled to make friends and to communicate. I´ve cried so many times wondering if I should take him back ´home´ to the UK to a single language school But I realised that’s not his home. His home is here in Spain and the biggest challenge of all is to be there 100% each and every day for him. No matter how tired I am. No matter what my day has been like. No matter what else I have to get done I am here for him 100%
Do you think your child’s autism has hindered or encouraged his language learning ?
100% it hindered to start with but actually just because a child doesn’t use a language doesn’t mean they don’t understand it. It doesn’t mean they are not capable of learning it and it certainly doesn’t mean they are not taking it in. The biggest thing with it for me is that when he meets someone whatever language they initially speak to him in is ´their language´. In his mind you can´t chop and change, you speak either English or Spanish for example, not both, and he struggles when there is a group of people speaking more than one language. But he is actually very good at languages and because children with autism find fixed things easy to cope with (so letters, words, numbers etc) he has a huge vocabulary for all 3 languages. Retrospectively being on the spectrum has actually helped him learn the language. It may not have helped him with the confidence to actually use it but to learn the words I think it´s helped.
Tell us about some of your successes.
100% our biggest success so far is moving him to a multi-national school where he has thrived and become a completely different child. We have taken away that additional pressure of being the only foreign child in the school. The teaching method is perfect for him. I very much doubt he would have achieved so much in a traditional school learning parrot fashion.
What is some advice you would like to offer to other multilingual families ?
Give your kids time. Don’t push them. You may think they are not taking everything in but they are. Make it fun. Let them enjoy learning. Learn not just the language but learn about the culture, the environment of the country, the food etc.
What is some advice you would offer to families of children with autism?
How long have you got?? Be patient, be kind. Being on the autism spectrum just means they are different NOT less. There is a way to communicate with them, a way to get through, but it´s up to YOU to learn how. It’s our job as parents to re-educate ourselves and not to try and force conventional education methods upon them. Most of all just keep trying and never give up. I was told my son would never amount to anything. That he would never have any friends and always be dependent on me…….but he goes to a mainstream school and is above average for the class. He speaks 3 different languages and has friends who he has made on his own (not just class mates). Frankly, he´s doing better than I was at his age. So I ask myself…who is the more ´normal´ child?
Name up to 3 resources you find useful for your family.
Books, Art & Mother Nature
Which language would you recommend someone to learn and why ?
Whichever language they want to learn. You´ll never master a language if your heart is not in it
I’m Nina, a full time mum to the most inspirational and amazing boy of 7 who lives on the spectrum and a scatty rescue pup. Alongside being a Mum, I have built my own successful Pinterest Marketing and Strategy business helping other fempreneurs and working Mums uplevel their business and skyrocket their website traffic. I like the simple things in life….a couple of hours at the beach, a good book, a cheeky glass of sangria, a long walk in the forest just me and my dog or just mucking about at the park with my little man. For me that is where it´s at, and that´s what life is all about. You can find out more at https://www.facebook.com/ThePinningWheel/