Rain Man (1988), starring Dustin Hoffman as Raymond, an autistic savant based on real-life “megasavant” Kim Peek, has been credited with raising awareness of autism spectrum disorder (ASD), but criticised for giving the impression that people on the autism spectrum typically exhibit savant skills. The term autism has origins in the Greek autós (αὐτός) “self” and - ismós ( ισμός) “condition, state”. Coined by psychiatrist Paul Eugen Bleuler in 1912, as the German word autismus , for extreme introvertedness as a symptom of schizophrenia, it was first used in its modern sense in the mid-1940s by child psychologist Hans Asperger, and in English by child psychiatrist Leo Kanner. ASD recognises a broad range of social, cognitive and behavioural challenges, including communication. Speech and language skills may be developed but often unevenly, many children having good memories, reading at an early age, but not necessarily comprehending what is read, or having strong vocabulary in a particular area of interest. They often display scripted language, such as echolalia – a strategy also used by young neurotypical children to learn language – repeating words or phrases they have heard as a response, or using stock phrases. They tend to have limited non-verbal skills, not using meaningful gestures and avoiding eye contact. Recommendations for communicating with people who have ASD include being specific and to the point, giving time for their processing of information, being obvious and avoiding abstract or metaphorical language, such as sarcasm or idioms. Such guidelines suggest a pared-down version of language. The idea, then, of adding languages to the repertoire might seem contrary to the aim of improving communication. Indeed it has been thought that learning a second language would be hard for ASD children, or worsen existing language difficulties. Yet, a new study has found that children with ASD who are bilingual have increased cognitive flexibility. This is in line with what is termed, for neurotypical populations, the “bilingual advantage” (though the replicability of research findings has been questioned): the proposal that the use of two or more languages strengthens executive function – cognitive abilities central to the voluntary control of thoughts and behaviours – and protects against cognitive decline, such as dementia. The research has prompted a rethink about how children with ASD are educated. This is particularly significant in multilingual communities where families usually use the dominant state language with the child – for better access to education and support systems – forgoing the heritage language and its associated cultural socialisation. Today is World Autism Awareness Day. Let’s move beyond mere awareness to greater understanding and inclusion.