I often experienced uncertainty and occasionally confusion during my first year practicing speech-language pathology. I worked in an urban area with a wide array of children, encompassing many different races, languages and cultures.
I wondered about many unfamiliar situations and asked myself—and more experienced SLPs—many questions: When treating a child who is bilingual, do I treat everything, when I don’t know the rules of their native language? When a parent didn’t complete home practice, was it their fault or mine?
I felt unsure in several encounters with my clients and their families. What was I missing?
After much self-consideration, I realized my beliefs and culture affected my job as an SLP. I had predisposed ideas about others’ race or culture, which unintentionally altered my attitude toward clients and their families before they stepped in the door.
As a member of a profession focused on supporting people, I wanted to address my unconscious and conscious ideas about race and culture head-on. Practicing empathy and compassion would help my career and improve my encounters with the myriad people who don’t look like me on the freeway, at a restaurant, buying groceries or in my workplace.
I used these three approaches to improve my cultural competence and become a people-first SLP:
- I actively sought out first-hand experiences from friends or coworkers, in addition to information from memoirs and documentaries, about what it was like to be African-American, Hispanic, Asian or Muslim and what it was like to be discriminated against for your race, religion or culture. What is it like to be a target in our society?
- I started learning more about my individual clients by asking questions related to treatment and their lives. What were their goals for treatment? Who was involved with practice at home? What is it like to be or have someone at home with a disability?
- I edited my materials to be relevant to my clients’ experiences. For example, I removed holidays not everyone celebrates, included activities supporting bilingualism and incorporated content applicable to their day-to-day experiences and environments.
I know this journey toward cultural competence is only beginning, but I feel I understand better how to support and treat people from myriad backgrounds. I allow my empathy and desire to help to guide my treatment practices. And I’ve seen significantly increased engagement with families and improvement in their children’s’ communication.
How do you enhance your cultural competence skills or improve relationships with clients from different backgrounds than your own? Please share in the comment section below.
Lindsay Teitelbaum, MS, CCC-SLP, is a school-based SLP with the West Contra Costa Unified School District in California. firstname.lastname@example.org