Date of Award

Summer 9-15-2022

Document Type


Degree Name

PHD - Doctor of Philosophy


Interdisciplinary Studies

First Advisor

Marcia Bromfield

Second Advisor

Maria de Lourdes B. Serpa

Third Advisor

Julia K. Landau



The rate of autism continues to increase globally across cultures and languages. Inequities exist in early access to an autism diagnosis and necessary evidence-based education and related services for dual-language children in the U.S. This qualitative dissertation study investigated the perspectives and practices of 10 educators and therapists working in the Boston area of Massachusetts with dual-language preschoolers with moderate to severe autism. Data was collected via semi-structured interviews on Zoom. Practitioners described their commitment to their students and families. Using a social constructivist phenomenological approach, the data analysis of the practitioners’ responses resulted in seven main findings. Assessment procedures for special education eligibility determination, monitoring progress, or 3-year-reevaluations did not address the required practice of assessment in the home language. Instructional practices described included early childhood and monolingual special education with little mention of cultural and language factors. Barriers to dual-language instruction were highlighted, leading to the use of primarily monolingual practices in special education and related services. Challenges identified included accessing competent interpreters, the limited availability of early childhood bilingual special education professional development, and rare support from English as a second language (ESL) teachers. Parents’ language barriers impacted their understanding of the special education process for their children and led to a delayed start of evidence-based autism services. Priorities for language instruction did not address the social communication needs of dual-language students with autism across settings. Additional barriers were identified regarding student access to appropriate online education and therapy for dual-language preschoolers during the COVID-19 pandemic. A limitation of this study is the research context of the pandemic lockdown, making it challenging to access practitioners and collect data. Recommendations include the development of state standards for teacher preparation and professional development, policy change from monolingual to bilingual early childhood special education, and further research that includes dual-language preschoolers with autism. Using a bilingual special education approach with continuation of the native language and a focus on social communication development across home, school, and communities can support the most significant progress in learning and best quality of life outcomes for dual-language preschoolers with autism and their families.



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