We believe that it is important that families receive information in a meaningful and understandable manner so that they are able to make the best educational decisions for their children in partnership with teachers and other school personnel.  

We know that across the nation, as well as in Colorado, approximately 79% – 80% of families, who speak a first language other than English, speak Spanish.  Thus, the THRIVE Center is a resource for all families who need information, including those whose first language is other than English.

The THRIVE Center is committed to helping all families access information they need to support their children’s growth and development and educational success. For this reason THRIVE provides translated materials in several languages and presents workshops on key topics in Spanish as well as English.  In our efforts to honor all languages and cultures, translators are sometimes arranged as needed for families who speak another language such as Hmong, Nepalese, Karen and Somoli. 

Bilingualism and Disability

Can a child with or without disabilities learn more than one language?

Many parents whose first language is other than English also might ask, “Can my child with or without disabilities learn more than one language? Should I just speak English to him at home? Will this help him succeed in school?”

One aspect of this commonly asked question is for the THRIVE Center to provide current information regarding bilingualism and how children, regardless of disability, can succeed in learning more than one language. Unfortunately, many parents faced with the decision about what languages their children will learn continue to receive outdated information, albeit well intended, from pediatricians or other professionals. Outdated information assumes that parents should only speak English to their children so they will not be “confused” or “delayed” as English is typically the language their children will learn in the classroom. We now know that exposure to a language other than English does not cause delays in learning English as a second language. In fact, current research indicates there are many benefits to developing bilingual proficiency including cognitive, economic and academic advantages (Genesee et al, 2004; Lindholm-Leary, 2004-05). Researchers now believe that far from being a problem, the process of acquiring two languages from a very early age has cognitive as well as social benefits. (Hakuta, 1986; Tabors,1997).

We also now know from research studies that many children, regardless of identified disabilities can successfully learn more than one language.  Children with disabilities are quite capable of becoming bilingual, and there is substantial benefit in encouraging development in the child’s first language. (Genesee, 2004). Subsequent studies validated these findings with children with language impairments, developmental disabilities, and hearing impairment (Kay-Raining Bird, Cleave, Trudeau, Thordardottir, Sutton, & Thorpe, 2005; Kohnert, Yim, Nett, Kan, & Duran, 2005; Guiberson, 2005; Restrepo, 2003; Restrepo & Kruth, 2000.

In fact, it is important that families speak the language they are most comfortable using to communicate with their child at home. It is important because children learn language in everyday meaningful interactions so if parents themselves are not comfortable or proficient in speaking English, their children will not be provided a language rich environment and thus not become successful in learning either language because of lack of sufficient exposure. We also know that children, who are in danger of losing their first language, often lose more than a language. They also often lose their culture and heritage and ability to communicate with family members such as grandparents, aunties that help pass on the traditions and life ways of a culture. They are also at risk for losing their own self-identity and connections to home, family, and culture (Wong Filmore, 1991). For example, many Native Americans have historically been denied access to their language of heritage because of a history in this country that has focused on assimilation rather than acculturation. We now see many tribal nations re-focused on recapturing their life ways and traditions by introducing their languages of heritage in reverse immersion programs for their children.

By Susan M. Moore & Clara Pérez-Méndez


Many complex concerns and questions regarding learning more than one language for children with special challenges remain for research to unravel. However, you can access additional information and how it impacts decisions you might make regarding your child by accessing resources through the THRIVE Center and other sources. Many resources are available including video DVDs and websites that address these questions are listed below:

Colorin Colorado: Helping Children Read and Succeed:
Moore, S.M. & Pérez-Méndez (2004) Language & Culture: Respecting Family Choice:
Pérez-Méndez, C & Moore (2005) Beyond Words:
The National Clearinghouse for Bilingual Education for English Language Acquisition: