For speech-language pathologists incorporating diversity into therapy materials can be a nebulous concept. Some basic questions come to mind:
- What is diversity? For the purposes of this post, we will define diversity as difference and representation. That means, variety and visibility of different cultures and sub-cultures in the materials we select for therapy.
- Which clients need multicultural materials? All of them!
- Are multicultural materials really necessary? YES!
- So, how do I even begin? Read on!
Here are some simple tips to get you started:
Image is everything
Representation of cultural and linguistic diversity (CLD) is key to incorporating multiculturalism into therapy sessions. The images, pictures, apps and toys, we use in therapy have power. They can send messages to our clients regarding our own personal beliefs and attitudes and impact how our clients see themselves. Multicultural images are not just for CLD clients; all clients should see images that mirror the world around them to add to the functionality of therapy. When working with clients, young children especially, we must be concerned with how media images shape their identities. Seeta Pai, a research and strategy consultant to social impact organizations suggests there are four interrelated ways in which media tells kids (and adults) who to be. They:
- Compare themselves to media characters
- Learn what’s acceptable and important
- Come to see repeated media portrayals as “real life” and
- Feel peer pressure from images to act in certain ways
As clinicians we can use this to our advantage and ensure all clients feel supported and included. A great pediatric app (my kids and young clients LOVE it) is Toca Life by Toca Boca. This is a series of apps that celebrates the everyday experiences of people in a make believe world. Not only is this an excellent app for a host of therapy targets, expanding utterance length, improving vocabulary, executive functioning deficits and following commands, it boasts an impressive cast of characters. In Toca Life, each of the 33 characters has a different skin color and limitless ways to personalize your characters. In Toca Life: Vacation, a multitude of family structures are offered during play so each child can play with a family like theirs. Both are examples of increased representation and inclusion.
Is all representation created equal?
Often when selecting storybooks for pediatric clients we consider the book and it’s purpose in therapy; improving pragmatic language, vocabulary building, or picture description. Keeping in mind our newly learned lesson, image is everything; consider storybooks where the lead characters are diverse. This also includes selecting stories with diverse characters unrelated to the civil rights movement, slavery and immigration. Selecting stories with diverse characters enjoying everyday, authentic and relatable situations allow CLD clients to become a part of the story. Admittedly, this may seem easier said than done. A study done by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison looked at 1,509 children’s books published in 2013. The study considered 1,183 books about humans (compared to aliens, animals and cars) and found only 10.48% of books published featured characters of color. While this statistic is dismal, never fear! There continues to be a slow, but steady increase in the number of books published by diverse authors and featuring diverse characters.
Here are books and authors to consider when creating a diverse library:
- The Zoey and Sassafras series by Asia Citro and Marion Lindsay is a 4 book series featuring a little girl, STEM and magical animals – a triple win!
- Princess of Bread by She Shil Kim is a whimsical story about family, the language of math and perseverance.
- Ada Twist, Scientist by Andrea Beaty is a fun book about trial and error, asking the BIG questions and having fun. It contains rhyming text too (go, phonological awareness!)
- Pack-n-Go Girls, Mexico series by Janelle Diller is perfect for older children when you want to explore a book over a series of sessions. This series covers the adventures of two friends as they solve mysteries. Other books by this author feature adventures in a variety of countries including, Australia and Thailand.
- Looking for books that pulverize gender stereotypes?
Black/Hispanic/Asian and Pacific Islander History Month or Year?
While these History months are a great time to highlight the accomplishments of diverse Americans, it is important to remember that you have diverse clients 9-12 months of the year. Rosa Parks is still great in April, right? Use stories of diverse heroes and individuals to excite and inspire clients throughout the year. A few ideas to consider:
- Have a client that wants to throw in the towel and needs motivation? Consider a news article about Lonnie Johnson who’s invention took 10 years and lots of false starts before becoming the well known and loved, Super Soaker.
- Rather than discuss Dr. Martin Luther King in February, discuss his landmark speech, I Have a Dream, on its August 28 anniversary. For my school-based folks, discuss his Nobel Prize acceptance speech in December or his famous Letter From a Birmingham Jail on the day it was penned, April 16th.
- Want to excite students by blending science and therapy? May is National Inventors month! Discuss inventions we couldn’t live without, all of the important things like George Crum’s epic invention, the potato chip. Other examples include, John Love’s pencil sharpener, Fred Jones’ automatic movie ticket dispenser and portable x-ray machine and Luis Von Ahn’s system for preventing spam and controlling computer access systems (type: THx3 to prove you’re a human).
There is no one, right, magic way to include diversity into your therapy material selection. This is a process that depends on your client population, setting and overall comfort. Have fun, commit to learning new things and share what you’ve learned with others.
The author received no compensation for completing this post. She has no affiliation with the products (books, apps) mentioned and received no compensation, monetary or otherwise, for mentioning them in this post.
Eusebia V Mont is an Assistant Clinical Professor in the department of Hearing and Speech Sciences at the University of Maryland, College Park. She is the co-director of the Cultural-Linguistic Diversity Emphasis Program and leader of the Accent Modification Program. Eusebia teaches Multicultural Issues in Communication Disorders, Principles and Methods in Speech-language Pathology and Childhood Language Development.