If there is one area where school-based clinicians always feel they can grow, it is in serving culturally and linguistically diverse populations. If you work in a school with a large number of Spanish-speaking families, there might be a system in place for supporting their needs, but everyone is acutely aware of how different the process is for the one Chuukese family trying to understand their special education referral. Conversely, you might work in an area where there are very few non-English speakers and witness the struggle in recognizing cultural differences among groups that may all happen to speak English (e.g. Native Americans, African Americans, families living in rural settings, those with specific religious backgrounds, etc.). 

ASHA defines cultural competence as understanding and appropriately responding to the unique combination of cultural variables—including ability, age, beliefs, ethnicity, experience, gender, gender identity, linguistic background, national origin, race, religion, sexual orientation, and socioeconomic status—that professionals, the student, and the family bring to interactions.

So, do you want to work in a more culturally competent workplace? Maybe you have more power than you think… Here are 3 ways you can promote cultural competence on your teams! 

3 ways to build cultural competence on your school team

Model culturally competent behaviors pre-referral 

Use appropriate resources, materials, and methods for assessment, and explain your choices during the referral process.

  • Ask good questions, especially of parents and family members. It might take time to get and understand the answers, but this will be time well-spent and may be the most important part of your assessment. 
  • Explain why (or why not) a particular assessment might be appropriate for the student. Look at test reviews and consider alternative forms of assessment.
  • Open up the manual to find out what populations that test was normed on. Did it include kids like the one you are testing? What does the manual say about dialects? Contact the publisher if you can’t find the answer to your question. 

Speak up when you don’t know, when you need additional resources, or when you’ve made faulty assumptions.

As an SLP, you have unique skills and opportunities to build your team’s cultural competence, even if it doesn’t always feel like you’re an expert. This is important work and the families you serve are depending on you to do it.