A quick Google search of “Asian Student Stereotypes” yields the following results:  

Asians students are…

  • Hard-working 
  • Diligent 
  • Studious 
  • High-achieving 
  • Quiet 
  • Obedient

Upon first glance, these all seem like positive things! Who wouldn’t want to be associated with these terms?

How could these stereotypes possibly be harmful? 

Furthermore, what does this mean for service delivery in the field of speech-language pathology? Why does this matter? 

What is the “Model Minority” Myth? 

These stereotypes contribute to the idea of the “Model Minority”.This term, coined by a 1960s New York Times Magazine article, describes the idea that Asian immigrants and Asian Americans achieve “universal and unparalleled academic and occupational success” in the United States and “serve as a model for other racial minorities to follow” (Museus & Kiang, 2009; Petersen, 1966). The myth of the “model minority” continues to pervade American culture and creates a host of issues for Asian Americans, as well as for other minority groups. In order to understand the impact of the model minority myth and its implications for service delivery,we must first understand the Asian American demographic. 

Asian Americans: By the Numbers 

The United States Census Bureau defines “Asian” as “a person having origins in any of the original peoples of the Far East, Southeast Asia, or the Indian subcontinent, including, for example, Cambodia, China, India, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Pakistan, the Philippine Islands, Thailand, and Vietnam” (U.S. Census Bureau, 2012).  

Asian Americans, often grouped with Pacific Islanders under the label AAPI, are an incredibly diverse group (Lee, 2005). The AAPI category includes: 

  • Over 50 ethnic groups 
  • Hundreds of distinct languages and dialects 
  • Numerous religious groups 

Data from the U.S. Census reveals additional information about the Asian American population:

United States Census Facts (U.S. Census Bureau, 2012; Vespa, Armstrong, & Medina, 2018)

  • According to the most recent 2010 United States Census, 
    • The Asian population was the fastest growing racial group between 2000 and 2010, increasing 43% for those who reported being Asian alone 
    • Between 2000 and 2010, the Asian population grew in every state
  • According to the United States Census’ 2017 National Population Projections, 
    • There are approximately 18.3 million individuals of Asian descent living in the United States (Asian alone, not including mixed race individuals) 
    • High net international migration is credited as being largest reason for the growth of the Asian population
    • The Asian population is projected to double by 2060

The Asian population in the United States is diverse and rapidly growing. This group is far from homogenous but continues to be treated as such. This is a theme across minority groups, with minority students being treated and discussed as a uniform group (Ford, 2012). 

Impact of Model Minority Myth 

In contrast to the diversity of the Asian American population, the myth of the model minority perpetuates the following ideas: 

  • All Asian groups share or have a similar culture, language, appearance, and similar levels of academic achievement 
  • All Asian families highly value education 
  • All Asian students are high achievers 
  • Asians do not experience major challenges as a result of their race, nor do they experience discrimination 
  • Asian Americans do not pursue or need resources/support 

(Museus & Kiang, 2009; Wing, 2007)

What lead to this myth of the model minority? 

The aggregated data of Asian subgroups initially contributed to the narrative of the model minority (Poon-McBrayer, 2011). Early research indicated that Asian Americans earned a greater household income than other races and higher levels of educational attainment (Le, 2011). 

However, this research did not account for the fact that many Asian American families, in comparison to White families, have larger households with more adults who are employed (Le, 2011). Additionally, this data did not break Asian Americans into ethnic subgroups, nor did it compare recent Asian immigrants to Asian Americans whose families have been in the U.S. for generations (Le, 2011; Poon-McBrayer, 2011). 

In reality, there are significant intergroup differences. Many of these ethnic subgroups are socioeconomically disadvantaged and achieve educational attainment levels lower than other ethnic/racial groups (Le, 2011; Museus & Kiang, 2009). However, data from generally higher achieving Asian subgroups (ex. Asian Indians and Japanese) often minimizes the data from the other Asian subgroups (ex. Cambodians, Hmong, and Laotians) (Le, 2011). 

Although the data demonstrates that Asian Americans vary greatly and are far from a uniform group, the myth of the model minority continues to spread. 

Ultimately, the model minority myth…

  • Pits minorities against each other as it reinforces the idea that Asians should serve as an example for other minorities to follow (Le, 2011).
  • Leads others to believe that Asian Americans pose a “realistic threat to the success, status, and/or welfare of other groups” (Maddux et al., 2008).
  • Is harmful for Asian Americans who feel pressure to live up to a certain standard and may cause damage to these students’ self-image (Museus & Kiang, 2009; Lee, 2005). 
  • Minimizes the experiences of discrimination that Asian Americans face (Museus & Kiang, 2009).
  • Causes Asian Americans to be viewed a homogenous group with fewer needs (Museus & Kiang, 2009).
  • Has potentially significant consequences for Asian American students of all ages (Poon-McBrayer, 2011).

The Impact of the Model Minority Myth on Service Delivery within the School System

In the education field, there is national concern of overrepresentation of culturally and linguistically diverse (CLD) populations in special education programs and under-representation in gifted and talented programs (NEA, 2007). Research shows that a child’s race/ethnicity is “significantly related to the probability that he or she will be inappropriately identified as disabled” (NEA, 2007). 

While over-representation of CLD populations in special education programs is a genuine and valid concern, the opposite tends to true for Asian American students. Asian Americans tend to be underrepresented in special education and overrepresented in gifted and talented programs (NEA, 2007; Poon-McBrayer, 2011). 

Research has shown that teachers fail to notice Asian students experiencing academic difficulty; partly due to the influence of the model minority stereotype and partly due to Asian students presenting as quiet and with fewer behavioral problems. In turn, teachers fail to refer students for services who have genuine learning disabilities. (Poon-McBrayer, 2007) 

Additionally, many individuals across Asian subgroups are reported to have generally negative attitudes towards disabilities (Doan, 2006). Due to prevailing attitudes towards disabilities, Asian American families may either struggle silently with the disability, not report their child’s academic struggles/disabilities, or even refuse services offered (Doan, 2006). And even if Asian American families try to advocate for their children, they may face difficulties because of teachers’ internalized model minority stereotypes/lack of cultural and linguistic sensitivity (Poon-McBrayer, 2011). 

Furthermore, over 70.5% of Asians report speaking a language other than English at home (Poon-McBrayer, 2011). Many children who come from these homes are also English Language Learners (ELLs). Across the nation, ELL students are also under-represented in special education programs (NEA, 2007). This serves as a double whammy for Asian American students with disabilities. 

The Model Minority Myth and Speech-Language Pathology 

Last semester, I had my clinical outplacement at an elementary school. There, I had the opportunity to sit in on meetings with members from the special education team. There were several instances where the staff members talked about the “quiet, nice kid syndrome”. The “quiet, nice kid syndrome” referred to children who had fallen behind academically or were not referred for special education services sooner because they went unnoticed in comparison to their louder, more active peers. 

If this is the case for “quiet, nice kids”, what happens to children who belong to the “model minority”? Regardless of whether Asian students are actually “quiet, nice kids”, they may be inadvertently perceived as such due to the model minority myth.  

Although there is limited research on the representation of Asian students with speech-language pathology services, it is likely that under-representation exists due to the model minority stereotype. 

In the healthcare system, Asian Americans may be inappropriately flagged as well for similar reasons. Cognitive and communication deficits may be erroneously attributed to prevailing stereotypes or to limited English proficiency. 

In the school system, speech-language pathologists depend on the referral of students from parents and teachers. In the healthcare system, we largely depend on the referral of patients from doctors and other medical professionals.  If these primary sources of referral are not properly flagging individuals who need services, these clients and patients may never cross our paths. 

If these individuals do cross our path, are we appropriately identifying them? I’ll admit, even as a graduate student who recently completed a cultural and linguistic diversity education program, I was more focused and worried about the concept of “overidentification” rather than “underidentification”. 

According to the American Speech-Language Hearing Association, our scope of practice includes eight domains of service delivery (collaboration; counseling; prevention and wellness; screening; assessment; treatment; modalities; technology; and instrumentation) and five domains of professional practice (advocacy and outreach; supervision; education; research; and administration/leadership). 

As SLPs, our job goes beyond assessment and treatment. It also includes collaboration, prevention, and education. It is our responsibility to continue to learn about and discuss factors, such as the model minority myth, that influence the accurate identification of individuals with disabilities and speech-language impairments. Not only should these factors be discussed as a community, but they should also be discussed with our collaborators. 

Awareness is the first step toward progress and change. 

References

Doan, K. (2006). A sociocultural perspective on at-risk Asian-American students. Teacher Education and Special Education29(3), 157-167.

Ford, D. Y. (2012). Culturally different students in special education: Looking backward to move forward. Exceptional Children78(4), 391-405.

Le, C.N. (2011) Socioeconomic Statistics & Demographicshttp://www.asian-nation.org/demographics.shtml

Lee, S. J. (2005). A Report on the Status of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in Education: Beyond the” Model Minority” Stereotype. National Education Association.

Maddux, W. W., Galinsky, A. D., Cuddy, A. J., & Polifroni, M. (2008). When being a model minority is good… and bad: Realistic threat explains negativity toward Asian Americans. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin34(1), 74-89.

Museus, S. D., & Kiang, P. N. (2009). Deconstructing the model minority myth and how it contributes to the invisible minority reality in higher education research. New Directions for Institutional Research2009(142), 5-15.

National Education Association of the United States, & National Association of School Psychologists. (2007). Truth in Labeling: Disproportionality in Special Education. National Education Assn.

Poon-McBrayer, K. F. (2011). Model minority and learning disabilities: Double jeopardy for Asian immigrant children in the USA. Global Studies of Childhood1(2), 152-158.

Vespa, J., Armstrong, D. M., & Medina, L. (2018). Demographic turning points for the United States: population projections for 2020 to 2060. Washington, DC: US Census Bureau42.

Wing, J. (2007). Beyond Black and White: The Model Minority Myth and the Invisibility of Asian American Students. Urban Review -New York-, 39(4), 455-487.

U.S. Census Bureau (2012). The Asian Population: 2010. Retrieved from https://www.census.gov/prod/cen2010/briefs/c2010br-11.pdf

Kelly Puyear is part of the the Cultural and Linguistic Diversity program for Speech-Language Pathology students at the University of Maryland. The program aims to broaden students’ understanding of culture and language in order to minimize disparities in service delivery to culturally and linguistically diverse populations.