Understanding Mexican culture to inform clinical practice

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Understanding the culture of the clients we serve is always crucial to implementing effective evidence-based practice. This article is a great one for learning about the impact of Mexican culture on language and learning.

This study of 35 Mexican mothers of toddlers is one of the most well-done and dense (in a good way) descriptions of the associations between culture, language, and learning we’ve seen in a while. There is a lot in here; so, honestly, if you have a large proportion of Mexican children on your caseload, this study warrants a full read!

But, of course, we’ll give you a couple big take-aways, to give you something to consider right away! Two primary ones from this article were:

  1. Consider the developmental relevance of activities other than play. When coaching a parent on how to stimulate language naturally, you must know what activities that adult participates in most with the child. For Mexican mothers, this is often mealtime and caregiving routines, and less often things like pretend play.

  2. Consider communication partners other than the mother. Mexican families tend to value the roles of everyone in the family—older siblings, dad, extended family members— in teaching and raising the child. Perhaps most notable is the role of older siblings, who not only play a lot with the younger siblings but also teach them how to behave and participate productively in the family. Basically, if you’re only looking at coaching mom, you’re likely not looking broadly enough, and need to consider the diverse and integral roles of all family members.

Cycyk, L.M., & Hammer, C. (2019). Beliefs, values, and practices of Mexican immigrant families towards language and learning in toddlerhood: Setting the foundation for early childhood education. Early Childhood Research Quarterly. doi:10.1016/j.ecresq.2018.09.009

Spanish and English in the classroom: Does it matter?

In this study of nearly 2000 dual-language learners (almost all Latinx) ages 18 months to age 5, in Educare/Head Start programs across the U.S., the researchers asked—does classroom language matter? 

Children were observed in each of three classroom categories:

  • English w/ No Spanish

  • English w/ Some Spanish

  • English & Spanish

The researchers found that all three classrooms supported English growth, but the English + Spanish classroom best supported Spanish growth. So to support Spanish growth, we may need more balanced bilingual instruction.

The authors further state, “… DLL children learn English at equal (and advanced) rates regardless of L2 classroom exposure, when in high-quality classrooms”, and thus “… Spanish use in the classroom at varying levels does not impede English acquisition.”

Surprising to most Informed SLPs? Probably not. But this is a great article to share with others if you’re trying to explain the impact of dual language instruction.

 

Raikes, H. H., White, L., Green, S., Burchinal, M., Kainz, K., Horm, D., ... Esteraich, J. (2019). Use of the home language in preschool classrooms and first- and second-language development among dual-language learners. Early Childhood Research Quarterly. doi:10.1016/j.ecresq.2018.06.012.

Why a Spanish word list won’t necessarily work for all Spanish speakers

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Gonzalez & Nelson remind us of the need to consider the cultural background of Spanish–English bilingual infants when administering the MacArthur Inventario del Desarrollo de Habilidades Comunicativas: Primeras Palabras y Gestos (IDHC), also known as the Spanish form CDI. The IDHC was originally created and normed using a monolingual Mexican sample from Southern California and Mexico. But Spanish isn’t exactly the same across all Spanish-speaking countries. As result, many of the words on the IDHC reflect Mexican Spanish and may be unknown or uncommon to children from other Latinx communities. While there are adaptations of the IDHC for use with Cuban, Chilean, and Columbian children, this still doesn’t represent the cultural–linguistic diversity we’ll see, especially when many Latinx children come from mixed-nationality homes.

The authors of this study administered the Mexican-normed IDHC to 27 Spanish–English bilingual infants of mixed Latinx backgrounds. The Spanish vocabulary scores for the infants of mixed Latinx backgrounds were significantly lower than the scores of the Mexican norming sample. Further analysis revealed that the parents of mixed Latinx backgrounds reported significantly lower comprehension for a subset of 16 words on the IDHC. It turns out these words were often described by parents as words they themselves didn’t know or words they didn’t commonly use at home. This highlights a potential issue with roughly 4% of the 428 words on the IDHC. When these words were removed, the bilingual mixed Lantinx group continued to have lower scores than the monolingual Mexican group, but the difference in scores was no longer significant. You can check out a complete list of the unknown/uncommon IDHC words in Appendix A.

Unfortunately, we don’t have updated and more inclusive norms for the IDHC to account for these unfamiliar words yet. BUT there is a silver lining here. Using a total vocabulary score (i.e., Spanish IDHC + English CDI) closed the gap between the mixed Latinx and Mexican groups. *Does happy dance* Even with the potentially problematic words on the IDHC, the impact appears to be minimized when both Spanish and English results are combined. This finding reiterates the importance of assessing bilingual children in both languages to get a more complete picture of overall language development.

 

Gonzalez, S.L., & Nelson, E.L. (2018). Measuring Spanish comprehension in infants from mixed hispanic communities using the IDHC: A preliminary study on 16-month-olds. Behavioral Sciences. Advance online publication. doi: 10.3390/bs8120117

Language delay and behavior problems: How can we help?

It’s not much of a surprise to EI SLPs that language problems and behavior problems can be pretty intertwined (e.g., here), and parenting style can be associated with both behavior and language outcomes. We also know that well-designed parent-implemented interventions can be wonderfully effective (they had better be if entire states are re-vamping their early intervention programs to promote the coaching model). So—can we support these things simultaneously?

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Garcia et al. implemented the Infant Behavior Program (IBP) with a group of mother–child pairs. The Infant Behavior Program was adapted from the Child-Directed Interaction (CDI) component of Parent-Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT). Programs like PCIT and Triple P- Positive Parenting Program have been shown to help children reduce negative behaviors, but no one has really studied what how (or if) those parent implemented behavior interventions affect language development. While PCIT training and certification is geared toward mental health professionals, the components of CDI and IBP will sound familiar to EI SLPs. The intervention guides parents to interact with their children using positive parenting skills, avoiding negative parenting skills, and ignoring unwanted behavior, and consisted of 5–7 weekly visits of 60–90 minutes. Parents were then asked to continue using the taught parenting skills in 5-minute increments throughout the day.

“Do” (Positive parenting skills)

  • Imitating

  • Describing

  • Reflecting

“Don’t” (Negative parenting skills)

  • Negative talk

  • Questions

  • Commands

Researchers found that change in parenting style was associated with an increase in the children’s total number of utterances. (Note: this effect was seen at six months after the intervention ended; the kids didn’t show a difference in total number of utterances at three months, or number of different utterances at either time they were tested). But the authors cautioned that presence of negative parenting skills did not change the toddlers’ number of utterances for better or for worse, so definitely don’t interpret this to mean we should throw out questions and commands.

So if an EI SLP is called in on a case where both language and behavior are concerns, but parent priority is behavior, maybe we start with those “positive” responsive techniques (labeling, imitating, and reflecting) before we jump in with questions and commands, because it looks like these positive behavior strategies can also help with language development!

 

Garcia, D., Hungerford, G. M., Hills, R. M., Barroso, N. E., & Bagner, D. M. (2019). Infant language production and parenting skills: A randomized controlled trial. Behavior Therapy. Advance online publication. doi:10.1016/j.beth.2018.09.003

Culturally congruent interventions for Latino families

When working with families from diverse backgrounds, it is imperative to make sure that our interventions are consistent with the family’s culture and values. Guiberson & Ferris studied caregiver interaction style in Latino families to identify interventions that would be culturally appropriate for the Latino population.  

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European–American families tend to use an independent style of interaction with their children: emphasizing the child’s individuality, following the child’s lead, and allowing the child to explore toys in different ways. This study found that the majority (75%) of Latino families interacted with their children using a more interdependent style. An interdependent interaction style emphasizes the child’s relationships and belonging to the family and cultural group. Caregivers who use an interdependent interaction style are more likely to direct the child’s attention, teach explicitly, show children how to play with toys, and use more commands and directives in their language.

Considering how Latino families tend to interact with their children, EI approaches that emphasize following a child’s lead may not be culturally appropriate for all Latino families. When working with families who use an interdependent interaction style, consider using the following interventions: 

  • Explicit teaching combined with attention directions

  • Modeling

  • Focused stimulation

  • Dialogic reading

Because these interventions give the caregiver more of an authoritative role in the interaction, they may feel more natural for Latino parents and therefore be more likely to be implemented. Latino mothers reported feeling more comfortable with a didactic style in which the parent gives commands, directs the child’s behavior, and explicitly teaches children how to complete tasks.

Check out the original article for more in-depth descriptions of these interventions and information on Latino caregiver preferred activities.  

 

Guiberson, M. M., & Ferris, K. P. (2018). Identifying culturally consistent early interventions for Latino caregivers. Communication Disorders Quarterly. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1177/1525740118793858.