The Culturally Competent SLP

Cultural competence is a critical skill for all clinicians to be continuously developing through ongoing self-assessment and expansion of cultural knowledge. Why? Whether working internationally or in their home country, Speech-Language Pathologists (SLPs) provide services to a range of clients from linguistically and culturally diverse backgrounds different from their own. To be a culturally competent clinician, one must adapt their personal biases, perceptions, pragmatic behaviors, and teaching styles. In doing so, a culturally competent clinician understands and responds to the unique cultural and linguistic variables of their client and adapts their evaluation and treatment approach accordingly.

Putting Cultural Competence into practice in your international career

Clinicians seeking work in countries where SLP is underdeveloped run the risk of imparting their own cultural biases on what is considered best practice without understanding the unique needs of the culturally and linguistically diverse population they serve. As a result, the well-intentioned SLP may indirectly reinforce power inequalities or take on the role of the ‘expert’ or ‘teacher’. In addition to being culturally competent, when working in countries where the goal is to develop the field of speech-language pathology, it is important to focus on working with and training local healthcare providers and families to develop their own clinical skill set to support the child rather than taking a direct-service approach.

Before starting your international career, educate yourself on:

  1. Nationality, ethnicity, and religious values of the population that may have an impact on beliefs around health care and family member involvement
  2. The family’s access to recommended materials, toys, food/drink, etc.
  3. Languages and various dialects spoken in the country. This is an important consideration when assessing speech skills
    • Use culturally and linguistically relevant assessment and treatment materials
    • Use items that are appropriate and familiar to the child
  4. Cultural norms related to social customs
    • Greetings, appropriate and inappropriate gestures, non-verbal communication (e.g.–appropriate use of eye contact)
  5. Cultural norms and perspectives on parent-child interactions
  6. Cultural norms and perspectives related to mealtimes
    • Important foods and drinks, type of equipment utilized (or not utilized) for eating and drinking, perspective on use of bottles/formula/breastfeeding and transitioning babies to solids, mealtime communication, environment, seating
  7. Cultural and religious perspectives on communication and swallowing disorders and the special needs population

***this is not an exhaustive list but just some ideas to get your mind rolling!

Useful Resources to Learn More about How to be a Culturally and Globally Competent SLP

Join ASHA SIG 17: Global Issues in Communication Sciences and Disorders

ASHA: Cultural Competence

Competencies for Effective Global Engagement: A Proposal for Communication Sciences and Disorders

An International Service Delivery Model for Sustainable Practices: Insights from Cambodia

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