Significance of Work is part of a 10-essay series.  New? Start here:  Cultural Differences in Speech Therapy and Assessment

Significance of work refers to the importance of work in a culture and how it is defined by the members of the culture. For example, many Americans are defined by their work, but people in many other cultures are defined by the groups they are members of and their role in the community.

This is one cultural parameter that divides along lines that don’t necessarily have to be ethnic, religious, or racial.  Where I grew up, adult conversations rarely ventured into work related topics.  Sure, people would mention if they changed their job and got a new one.  However, conversation primarily revolved around sports, weekend events, what the family was doing, the news, and political debates.  Yes, we all worked, that was a given.  Where I live now, it is almost a given at a social engagement that the second question after asking someone’s name is: “So, what do you do?”  I remember one comical interaction when my brother came to visit and someone asked: “What do you do?”  He was utterly confused.  He said:  “What do you mean?  Do I dance?  Do I drink coffee?  What do you want to know?”  I have never quite figured out if this is a Northern-Southern (U.S.) thing.  Or is this a blue-collar/white-color thing.  I still find the question funny.

When we talk about significance of work, your cultural angle might make you think that we are only talking about adults.  In some families, there is an expectation that children will take up work roles within the family, such as child care, helping with chores, or actually working with other family members. I have several students who clean offices after school and one who even drywalls with his Dad on Saturday morning.  Lynch & Hanson (2004) posit that these responsibilities may stem from economic necessity.  I would add that some families believe that they are teaching good work ethic and teaching their children how to get ahead in life.

Significance of Work and Speech Therapy

Clinicians should consider this parameter when determining the diversity of settings in which the child is required to communicate. Because some children are often expected to work within or even outside of the home (Lynch & Hanson, 2004), they may need to communicate in environments that a clinician would not typically anticipate for a child. For example, a child may not stutter at home with his or her siblings, but could experience disfluencies while interacting with customers at the family store. These environments can be more communicatively demanding for the child, the child may be more vulnerable to fluency breakdowns in these environments. It is important for the clinician to be aware of the child’s possible communication settings. Understanding the potential demands of these settings will help form a more complete picture of the child’s world and will allow the SLP to hone in on what to address in treatment.

On a second note, some of our bilingual students are the family translators.  For any of you that have attempted to be an intermediary during an IEP meeting, at a doctor’s office with your grandparent, or even between two children, you know how mentally taxing this is.  Adding a second language into the mix makes it that much more difficult.

Significance of Work and Speech Assessment

Parent intake information is largely guided by the questions that we ask.  We can get a greater picture of a child’s communication by asking open ended questions.  For example, if you ask: “What does he normally do on the weekend?”  You will find out who the child spends his time with and events that you might not have considered.  Here is a list of things I learned about that I wouldn’t have gotten if I stuck with the typical: “Do you understand your child?”

  • We go to the pulga (flea market)
  • He works with his father
  • We spend all Saturday at the Mosque in religious and Arabic classes
  • She is with her non-English-speaking grandparents, we work all weekend

Secondly, an IEP meeting or evaluation might be hard to schedule if missing work means that a parent will lose their job or wages.  Vacation days or an understanding boss might be typical for many of us, but they are not guaranteed.  Always schedule at the beginning of our evaluation and meeting windows so that we can account for any schedule conflicts.

In our next essay we will talk about Beliefs about Health.

Cultural Competence: Overview – ASHA

Lynch, E.W., & Hanson, M.J. (2004). Developing cross-cultural competence: A guide for working with children and their families (3rd ed.).  Baltimore: Brookes.
Salas-Provance, M.B., Erickson, J.G., & Reed, J. (2002). Disabilities as viewed by four generations of one Hispanic family. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 11, 151-162.
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