Views of Time and Space

Cultural Differences in Speech Therapy #2

Views of Time and Space

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

Views of Time and Space is a cultural parameter that refers to how strictly a culture adheres to a schedule. Some cultures emphasize punctuality, while others are more event-oriented. For the latter group, beginning a new event is determined by the completion of the previous event, rather than by a schedule. This parameter also refers to personal space and how much distance between conversational partners is required for individuals to feel comfortable (Tomoeda & Bayles, 2002).

Some cultures are event-oriented and not overly concerned with time. Being late is not considered rude or disrespectful, but instead means that a person is giving priority to a more urgent situation.  Where one culture might see being late as a bad thing, another culture might see showing up unprepared as worse.

Cultures also vary widely with how much space is considered necessary to feel comfortable. As an example, research indicates that Latinos frequently require less personal space to feel comfortable than some other cultures. A European American may require two to three feet of personal space. Latinos may interpret that great of a distance as cold, unfriendly, or as a method to demonstrate superiority (Bennett, 1996).

Views of Time and Space with Treatment and Assessment

In the clinical setting, this parameter influences clients’ timely arrival for scheduled appointments, their comfort with pre-specified duration of sessions, and their expectation to be accommodated if they miss or cancel a session (Moxley, Mahendra, and Vega-Barachowitz, 2004). Clinicians need to be aware that some cultures do not consider arriving late to be rude or disrespectful. Thus, tardiness should not be taken as a personal offense nor should it be interpreted as a lack of interest in treatment. Clinicians who are more event-oriented could possibly choose to schedule their clients who frequently arrive late to arrive 15 minutes earlier than the actual appointment times in order to reduce the amount of time the clinician must wait for the client (Leith, 1986). The clinician should also consider their clients’ modes of transportation and how that may affect punctuality (Robayo, 2003). Given the tight schedule of most SLPs, however, it might be necessary to discuss why promptness is important in the clinical setting.  We have been working with diverse families in our clinic for over a decade.  We have found that this can be the case with new families and only requires a discussion in the beginning about expectations and then it is usually not an issue.  With permission, we would like to share Chris and San Juana’s story. As you watch, think about the considerations of time that may impact their weekly sessions to our clinic.

In addition, it would benefit clinicians to realize the possibility of reduced personal space with clients in order to not be alarmed when family members position themselves closer to each other or to the clinician than he or she is accustomed. In some cultures, a handshake is appropriate when one is introduced to a new person, but in others some may choose to kiss one another on the cheek (Robayo, 2003). If you are more comfortable with a handshake, have that conversation.

Questions for Big Thinking

Are you late to meetings or does lateness irritate you?  Do you think you should show up for a party right on time or well after it has started?  If you had to make a choice, would you rather a colleague show up for a meeting on time or prepared?  No wrong answers – Just differences! Just think about it or share your comments below.

In our next essay we will talk about the Roles of Men and Women .

Want to read about all the cultural parameters in one place, get CEUs and a helpful chart? Check out.

Understanding Cultural Parameters when Assessing and Treating Diverse Children

Cultural Competence: Overview – ASHA

Leith, W.R. (1986). Treating the stutterer with atypical cultural influences. In K.O. St. Louis (Ed.), The atypical stutterer (p.9). New York: Academic Press, Inc.
Moxley, A., Mahendra, N., & Vega-Barachowitz, C. (2004). Cultural competence in health care. The Asha Leader, pp. 6-7, 20-22.
Robayo, M. I. (2003). Latinos/Hispanics.  Retrieved April 8, 2006.
Vega, W.A. (1995). The study of Latino families. In R.E. Zambrana (Ed.), Understanding Latino families: Scholarship, policy, and practice (3-17). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.

Written by: Scott Prath

4 Comments on “Cultural Differences in Speech Therapy #2”

  1. June 14, 2019 at 11:54 am #

    Hello Scott,

    Before I became an SLP I spent too many years working on a grad. degree in cultural anthropology, including two years of fieldwork in Indonesia. We are an extremely adaptable species, but some culturally-informed beliefs are more enduring than others. Medical anthropological research has shown that ideas about the body, illness and disability are often closely held and enduring. In our practices I think we often engage with people who have a very different understanding of their presenting problem than we have. This need not be an obstacle, but it is something to be aware of.

    • June 14, 2019 at 2:16 pm #

      That sounds like an amazing background to add to being a speech pathologist. I am glad you contributed on this. Culture is so subtle and it can be a wonderful thing as long is doesn’t influence a misdiagnosis. I think you are right that awareness is the key.

  2. July 6, 2019 at 3:30 pm #

    Thank you for this essay Scott. It is the first time I think it clicked that the difference in time is punctuality vs preparedness (not UNpunctual or LATE) This is a big difference and really hit home. I personally hold punctuality in high regard, even as I come from a culture that values preparedness. This article and the way you explained the difference in time has provoked me to think more about why punctuality is so important to me personally and examine my true capacity to give beyond my comfort zone. Thank you!

    • July 15, 2019 at 12:31 pm #

      Hi Maribel,
      I too come from a highly punctual culture (Wisconsin – German) where “on time is late.” Show up a few minutes early so that you are relaxed and mentally present for whatever you are doing. Otherwise, you are being inconsiderate!! Then, I studied and traveled in Central America. I would have been a basket case if I worried about late buses and late arrivals. My Austrian grandfather’s chastising voice still hauntingly whispers in my ear as I arrive at an appointment “on-time.” I don’t think that will ever change. But I have come to appreciate the other end of the perspective. Thanks for your comments.

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