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Myth Busters: Bilingualism and Language Delays in Young Children

By | NESCA Notes 2021

By Renée Marchant, Psy.D.
Pediatric Neuropsychologist

Bilingual and multilingual children are often diagnosed with both language disorders and autism spectrum disorders later in development than monolingual children. There are a variety of reasons for later diagnosis, such as disparities in service access or structural inequities in society which limit diagnostic or treatment services for bilingual and multilingual families as well as disparities in the availability of providers and experts capable of diagnosing communication disabilities and language delays in bilingual and multilingual children. Another main factor I often see in practice as a neuropsychologist is a “myth” related to language development in bilingual/multilingual children. The myth is that “bilingualism or multilingualism causes language delay.” This is not accurate and not concordant with the scientific research. If a parent, educator, pediatrician, or therapist raises concern about a bilingual or multilingual child’s language development, do not delay an evaluation to consider the presence of a language delay, communication disability, autism spectrum disorder, or a neurological or cognitive disability. It is likewise critical to not delay access to helpful interventions for language development (e.g., speech/language therapy, early literacy/phonics interventions, social skills/play interventions). Early detection of language delays improves outcomes for monolingual and bilingual/multilingual children.

Here are important key facts about language delay and bilingual/multilingual children which can be helpful for parents, educators, therapists, and other professionals:

  • While there are some differences in bilingual and multilingual language development from monolingual development in the brain, those differences do not produce speech delays.
  • Bilingual/multilingual children and monolingual children develop expressive language skills and reach early speech and language milestones at similar times in early development. For example, single-word vocabulary size of bilingual/multilingual children is equitable to vocabulary size of monolingual children.
  • Language regression (a “red flag” for autism spectrum disorders) occurs regardless of language status and is not dependent on a child’s monolingual or multilingual abilities.
  • There is much scientific research indicating that bilingualism/multilingualism enhances social communication skills (including children with autism spectrum disorders). Likewise, bilingualism/multilingualism does not in itself produce or explain social communication challenges for children.

Additional Resources

If you want to learn more about bilingualism and language delay, Dr. Brenda Gorman, Associate Professor in Communication Sciences and Disorders at Elmhurst College, and Dr. Alejandro Brice, Professor in the Department of Education at the University of Florida at St. Petersburg offer an informative YouTube video for parents and clinicians regarding bilingualism, “late talkers,” and language delay:

This scientific article is also a helpful resource for parents and professionals: “Bilingualism in the Early Years: What the Science Says” (Byers-Heinlein and Lew-Williams, 2013):


About the Author:

Dr. Renée Marchant provides neuropsychological and psychological (projective) assessments for youth who present with a variety of complex, inter-related needs, with a particular emphasis on identifying co-occurring neurodevelopmental and psychiatric challenges. She specializes in the evaluation of developmental disabilities including autism spectrum disorder and social-emotional difficulties stemming from mood, anxiety, attachment and trauma-related diagnoses. She often assesses children who have “unique learning styles” that can underlie deficits in problem-solving, emotion regulation, social skills and self-esteem.

Dr. Marchant’s assessments prioritize the “whole picture,” particularly how systemic factors, such as culture, family life, school climate and broader systems impact diagnoses and treatment needs. She frequently observes children at school and participates in IEP meetings.

Dr. Marchant brings a wealth of clinical experience to her evaluations. In addition to her expertise in assessment, she has extensive experience providing evidence-based therapy to children in individual (TF-CBT, insight-oriented), group (DBT) and family (solution-focused, structural) modalities. Her school, home and treatment recommendations integrate practice-informed interventions that are tailored to the child’s unique needs.

Dr. Marchant received her B.A. from Boston College with a major in Clinical Psychology and her Psy.D. from William James College in Massachusetts. She completed her internship at the University of Utah’s Neuropsychiatric Institute and her postdoctoral fellowship at Cambridge Health Alliance, a Harvard Medical School teaching hospital, where she deepened her expertise in providing therapy and conducting assessments for children with neurodevelopmental disorders as well as youth who present with high-risk behaviors (e.g. psychosis, self-injury, aggression, suicidal ideation).

Dr. Marchant provides workshops and consultations to parents, school personnel and treatment professionals on ways to cultivate resilience and self-efficacy in the face of adversity, trauma, interpersonal violence and bullying. She is an expert on the interpretation of the Rorschach Inkblot Test and provides teaching and supervision on the usefulness of projective/performance-based measures in assessment. Dr. Marchant is also a member of the American Family Therapy Academy (AFTA) and continues to conduct research on the effectiveness of family therapy for high-risk, hospitalized patients.


To book an evaluation with Dr. Marchant or one of our many other expert neuropsychologists, complete NESCA’s online intake form.


Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton and Plainville, Massachusetts, and Londonderry, New Hampshire, serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email or call 617-658-9800.