IDEA Part C Issue Brief: Cultural and Linguistic Diversity

The Current IDEA Part C Final Regulations

The IDEA Part C Final Regulations, released in 2011, continue to support service delivery that recognizes cultural and linguistic diversity. For example, §303.227 continues to state that all families of infants or toddlers with a disability must be provided with access to "culturally competent services within their local geographical areas." Procedural safeguards as defined in §303.421(c) remain: Prior written notice must be "provided in the native language...of the parent or other mode of communication used by the parent, unless it is clearly not feasible to do so."

A number of clarifications and additions were included in the current IDEA Part C Final Regulations. Part C regulations revised the definition of native language with respect to an individual with limited English proficiency. Native language in §303.25(a)(1) now means the "language normally used by that individual, or in the case of a child, the language normally used by the parents of the child." §303.25(a)(2) goes on to clarify that evaluations or assessments should be conducted in "the language normally used by the child, if determined developmentally appropriate for the child by qualified personnel conducting the evaluation or assessment." Previous proposed regulations required that "the native language of the parents be used in all direct contact with the child." The definition allows for the consideration of the child's total language system in a way that permits qualified personnel to assess a child who typically uses more than one language. This change supports culturally competent service delivery for customization of the language(s) for assessment and evaluation as appropriate for each child.

Language added to §§303.321(a)(5) and 303.321(a)(6) states that all evaluations and assessments of a child must be conducted in the native language of the child, in accordance with the definition of native language in §303.25, unless clearly not feasible to do so. While the phrase "unless clearly not feasible to do so" was inserted to acknowledge that there may be instances where conducting an assessment in the child's native language is not possible, the U.S. Department of Education, in the discussion section of the final regulations, clarifies that best efforts should be put forth to locate an on-site or telephonic interpreter when needed.

Procedures for assessment of the family have been restructured and are included in §303.321(c)(2)(i) through (c)(2)(iii). The addition lists requirements that ensure that each family is involved and that services are relevant and culturally competent. Section 303.321 (c)(2)(iii) specifically requires that an assessment include the family's description of its resources, priorities, and concerns related to enhancing the child's development. The inclusion of regulatory language identifying the need for "family-directed assessment" will assist in assuring the right to culturally competent services. More information on family-directed assessment can be found in the Evaluation and Assessment Definitions document.

Implications for ASHA Members

The regulations continue to emphasize the family-centered nature of Part C services and have included language to address the importance of culturally competent services. It is important for speech-language pathologists and audiologists to consider carefully the implications of these requirements in their daily practice. Every encounter with a family is unique; each family member and clinician brings his or her own experiences and cultural and linguistic background. ASHA members must account for the child's needs as well as the family's and exhaust all resources to provide the highest quality of service.

What ASHA Members Can Do

Family-centered and individualized care is fundamental to Part C and an essential part of culturally competent service delivery. ASHA members are encouraged to perform culturally competent evaluation and treatment that recognize the unique needs of the child and family. Services should be provided in the language(s) that is most likely to yield an accurate picture of the child's language skills.

Audiologists and SLPs must ensure that their assessment selection is appropriate and will yield valid results. SLPs and audiologists must advocate at the state and local levels for identification, assessment, and eligibility policies and procedures that appropriately recognize and account for the linguistic and cultural diversity of the children and families they work with.

In cases where a bilingual SLP or audiologist is not available to provide services, every resource should be exhausted to identify a professional interpreter or another individual fluent in the child's language to assist in the delivery of services. It is critical that interpreters or paraprofessionals who assist with screening or assessment receive appropriate training. SLPs and audiologists must select assessment and treatment tools that are free of bias and sensitive to the child's cultural and linguistic background. Interpreters do not conduct the testing; rather, they serve as "conduits" to enable the service provider to obtain needed information. It is the responsibility of the SLP or audiologist, not the interpreter, to eliminate bias.

Audiologists and SLPs are encouraged to develop their knowledge and skills in this area of practice in order to ensure the provision of culturally competent services.

ASHA has a number of resources on its website to assist.

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