Shereen Sharaan

PhD Candidate in Clinical Psychology

Background

My name is Shereen, I’m from Egypt, born and raised in the United Arab Emirates. In 2006, I started a journey of higher education. During this journey, I resided in several countries through which I acquired several multilingual and multicultural experiences. Along the way, I was introduced to a course named ‘The Psychology of Bilingualism’ which opened my eyes to the dearth of research investigating the impact of experiences like mine. Moreover, throughout my entire life, I have been actively involved in the field of autism spectrum disorders as I grew up with an inspirational younger autistic brother who became the first autistic child in the UAE to attend mainstream school and receive a high school diploma. Therefore, when the time came to select my dissertation topic, it seemed clear that I should focus on the one that directly grew out of my personal experience: bilingualism and autism. To my surprise, I found this interface received little attention in the scientific community.

Qualifications

BSc Business Administration (Marketing), The American University of Sharjah, UAE, 2011

MSc Clinical Linguistics, Newcastle University, UK, 2014

PhD Clinical Psychology, University of Edinburgh, UK, 2016-2019

Research summary

Bilingualism, Autism, Executive Functions, Creativity

Affiliated research centres

Project activity

Bilingualism, Autism, and Executive Functions

The impact of speaking two languages has been shown to have a broad impact on human cognition, especially in the area of executive functions. While some studies debate the existence of any cognitive advantages for bilinguals, we can all agree that findings have been focused on typically developing population. There is no evidence about the impact of bilingual experience on the executive functioning (EF) of children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). There is a widespread belief that children with ASD will be “overloaded” by a second language because they have an already-impaired first language. However, there is no evidence that bilingualism negatively affects language (verbal) development children with ASD. On the contrary, they have demonstrated the capacity to function successfully as bilinguals. 

Can speaking a second language improve the executive functions of children with ASD? We don’t know. It may have produce an advantage, no advantage, or disadvantage for these children. The point is we need to investigate because parents, therapists, and educators make choices about language, treatment, and instruction for bilingual children with ASD every day without having sufficient research to support their decisions. These choices hold consequences for the treatment, education and formation of ethnic identifies of the increasing number of bilingual children with ASD.

Our study will compare bilingual and monolingual children with ASD on executive function (EF) tasks to investigate whether there are any differences between the groups. We also want to find out what are the factors associated with bilingualism that could impact our findings (socio economic status, bilingual language competence, etc.). Our participants are residents of the United Arab Emirates, a unique country that presents multilinguals in a large variety of cultural and linguistic variations. A pilot study is set to take place first in the United Kingdom to pilot appropriate measures to test executive functions in children with ASD.