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Infant Toddler Development Training
Module 5, Lesson 1

Cultural Considerations

The increasingly multicultural nature of American society presents a broad range of values and beliefs among families with whom you work, and the entry of new immigrants has increased the number of languages spoken. Here in Florida, that is especially true. Often professionals in early intervention settings come from cultures very different than the families with whom they work.

mother and child at playground Members of diverse cultures may vary in child-rearing practices, in their views about disabilities, and in their responses to working with professionals. The culture and ethnicity of a family impact the degree and kind of participation the family will engage in with professionals. As the professionals in this relationship, we need to respect the families and their cultures and respond to their needs and values in light of their culture. Kalyanpur and Harry (1999) state, "Awareness of cultural differences provides the scaffolding for building collaborative relationships"(p.118).

Ways of thinking and behaving that enable members of one cultural, ethnic, or linguistic group to work effectively with members of another is called "cultural reciprocity". Lynch and Hanson (1997) use the term "cross cultural competence" (p. 492). Cultural reciprocity and cross cultural competence have several components (Kalyanpur & Harry, 1999; Lynch & Hanson, 1997):

  1. Awareness of one's own cultural limitations
  2. Openness, appreciation, and respect for cultural differences, including subtle differences between cultures
  3. Avoidance of stereotyping
  4. Ability to apply cultural awareness universally to all situations
  5. A view of intercultural interactions as learning opportunities
  6. Ability to use cultural resources in interventions
  7. Empowerment of both families and professionals as each learns from the other
  8. Acknowledgement of the integrity and value of all cultures

In order to work effectively with families of diverse backgrounds, it is also important to know how their specific cultures view disabilities. Some cultures place great value on cooperation, cohesiveness, and interdependence - characteristics that differ from what we generally think of as American culture. If the perspectives of racially/culturally diverse families are not respected, they may become only marginally involved in the collaboration or may not participate at all. For example, Latino parents of a child with mental retardation may view their child's disability differently from Native American parents. The Latino parents may attribute mental retardation to something the mother did during her pregnancy.

kids just standing thereThe Native American parents, on the other hand, may view the disability of their child as the result of a supernatural cause and employ the use of a tribal healer to intervene (Kalyanpur & Harry, 1999). Both of these cultures view disabilities very differently than a Caucasian middle-class individual whose family roots go back one or two hundred years in America.

How do you reach out to families from different cultures? A study by Sanders and Herting (2000) found that programs that recognize, respect, and address cultural and class differences were effective in engaging diverse families. Given the increasing cultural diversity of our nation, this skill is critical for successful partnerships. Many parents do not speak or read English well enough to communicate with professionals or understand written documents. Because of cultural differences, many parents are not familiar with expectations for them within the Early Steps system. These facts, coupled with how different cultures view and react to disabilities, make the collaborative process more challenging for early intervention personnel.

Another consideration when we are talking about cultures is to think about cultures outside the context of ethnicity. Think about the unique differences between families in rural and urban cultures. Could there be differences in what is valued in each of these cultures? There are also some distinct differences between the military and civilian cultures in the United States. For instance, military families of children with disabilities may not appear to be as strong advocates for their children as their civilian peers when differences of opinion arise with the professional with whom they are working. This may be because of the strong emphasis in the military on the importance of staying within the "chain of command". This may be due to the prevailing sense that to request due process or mediation could negatively affect one's military career.

 

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