Whether you are new to the profession of speech-language pathology or a seasoned veteran, you have probably discovered that using visuals in therapy helps keep students and clients engaged as well as reinforce the teaching and learning of skills. With that thought in mind, how important is it to use diversified materials in therapy?
Based on information from the 2019 ASHA Member and Affiliate Profile, 92% of the speech-language pathology profession is comprised of white SLPs, and 96% of SLPs are women. Paired with the knowledge that most people who create speech-language therapy materials are white females and the obvious lack of diversified materials, it is safe to assume that many of us are not using multicultural therapy materials. The question is, should we be using diversified therapy materials? “We have built D+I (diversity and inclusion) into expectations for our members in the Association's Code of Ethics, and multicultural infusion is expected, as appropriate, in all association programs, products, and services” is a statement taken directly from the ASHA website (https://www.asha.org/About/Diversity-and-Inclusion-at-ASHA/). While it may not be recognized or enforced, the expectation is in place for service providers to use multicultural resources.
There are some who question why diverse books are needed if you can target the necessary skills with books that feature the mainstream population versus those groups who are often underrepresented. We have been hearing and seeing, “representation matters.” One of the most commonly expressed reasons for using multicultural books and materials is that seeing yourself represented in literature helps promote a sense of identity and value, when the representation is positive. Positive representation can promote a sense of self-importance, value, and the ability to dream beyond what you can see in your current situation. Another benefit is that culturally diverse books can help students and clients learn to understand people who are different by highlighting diverse experiences.
Exposure to diverse literature can impact views about a variety of environments and can facilitate children learning to think and imagine beyond their individual world. If we only see characters and people who look like us, it limits our ability to see others as important and valuable members of society. Therefore, it is important that children who are not from marginalized groups be exposed to culturally diverse books and materials as well. Books that highlight diversity and inclusion can be great for helping children gain new perspectives about events that occur in school and/or community.
Grace Lin, a Chinese children’s book author, shared that books can show you the world, and they can also show you a reflection of yourself. Because she and her family were the only Chinese people in her community, she decided she was not going to be Chinese. There were no others in the community that looked like her and there were no Chinese people in the books she loved to read; so it was easy to pretend she wasn’t Chinese until a classmate pointed out to her that she could not be Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz school play because she was, in fact, Chinese. Grace shared how she felt she could never be important because she was Chinese, and how she refused to embrace her Chinese culture because she didn’t feel valued or special. Grace summarized her TED Talk, The Windows and Mirrors of Your Child’s Bookshelf, by saying that books should be mirrors so children can see themselves represented; and they should be windows so that they can learn empathy and problem-solving as it relates to a variety of people.
If that is not enough to convince you, I recently read an Instagram post by SLP, Erika Bodoin of @equityslps in which she shared how one of her students responded to finding out the authors of ‘When Oliver Speaks!” (Authors: Kimberly Garvin, Saadiq Wicks) were black. Upon finding out the authors were black, her second-grade student expressed the desire to write his own book about stuttering. Erika gave consent for the pictures from her IG post to be shared in this blog.
So, the answer to the question of should we be using diversified therapy materials is absolutely, unequivocally, yes. We owe children experiences of positive representation of themselves and opportunities to learn about others with whom they share a world. It is our ethical responsibility.
I am sure some are saying, what can we do without materials. There are books available and we all know books are some of the best therapy materials. Secondly, petition the creators to diversify their materials. A few have already started addressing the concerns and trying to meet the needs. I hope this will inspire you to learn and teach using more culturally diverse materials with positive representation of all cultures.
Author: Truvine Walker, M.Ed./CCC-SLP, L