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?

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.
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