September 26, 2006 Feature

Lessons From the Da Vinci Code: Working with Bilingual/Multicultural Children and Families

Maurizio Seracini is an expert art diagnostician who also appears as a character in Dan Brown's best-selling novel The Da Vinci Code. Using radar, X-rays, echographs, and other probing tools, Seracini creates a clinical chart of each of his "patients," which are masterpiece artworks. He investigates the process of decay, identifies the pathologies, and finds ways to understand what the artist was trying to communicate. He delves beneath the surface of a work of art to discern its story: Where did it come from? Who created it? How and when was it created?

In the novel, through his meticulous art diagnostics, Seracini discovered that one of the most famous paintings in the world, "The Adoration of the Magi" in the Uffizi gallery in Florence, Italy, was not painted by Leonardo Da Vinci, as previously believed. He found that Da Vinci did the under-drawings, but these preliminary drawings were not only scraped away but also many of the figures were covered up by later painters. What was Da Vinci trying to communicate to the viewer? What stories did he want to share? Why did he choose those topics? Similar to uncovering Da Vinci's code, speech-language pathologists must also be expert diagnosticians when working with individuals with hidden stories that need to be decoded.

When working with culturally and linguistically diverse children and families, SLPs must function like Seracini—as inquisitive diagnosticians using a range of tools to decode the meaning of verbal, nonverbal, and socio-cultural messages with the intent of providing a clinical chart. The methods are not the same as Seracini's, but the process of uncovering the codes is equally fascinating. The tools include culturally fair assessment, dynamic assessment, ethnographic studies, and modified standard procedures. The methods include the SWOT approach and the RIOT approach.

In order to decode each student's clinical history, sufficient cultural knowledge about the family, language, and values is necessary. Cultural intelligence is crucial to the success of decoding messages and communicative intents. For Seracini, cultural intelligence made it possible for him to decode Da Vinci.

To decode the messages we receive, the following approach is suggested for culturally and linguistically diverse children:

  • Use the SWOT method to analyze the case.
    Identify the strengths of the child, the weaknesses of the child, the opportunities available to the child, and the potential threats if the correct diagnosis is not made and the appropriate intervention is not provided.
  • Use the RIOT approach to assess the case.
    Review all pertinent background, interview all relevant individuals, observe in multiple settings, and test the child using culturally fair methods.
  • Use the data to establish intervention strategies.
    Analyze the results collected and develop strategies based on all of the data obtained from the SWOT and RIOT methods.
  • Analyze the complex process of decoding messages with mixed codes. In the art of diagnostics, new methods such as SWOT and RIOT—combined with sufficient cultural intelligence—will help school-based clinicians to decode the messages of multicultural children and families in an accurate clinical chart.

Li-Rong L. Cheng, is a professor in the School of Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences at San Diego State University and the executive director of the Chinese Study Institute. Cheng is the current chair of the ASHA Multicultural Issues Board. Her research includes second-language acquisition, language and culture, cross-cultural communication, and speech-language pathology of the bilingual/ multicultural population.

cite as: Cheng, L. L. (2006, September 26). Lessons From the Da Vinci Code: Working with Bilingual/Multicultural Children and Families. The ASHA Leader.

What SWOT and RIOT Stand For

What SWOT Stands For:

Strengths—finding a student's communication strengths

Weaknesses—locating the weak spots in the student's overall communication patterns and in his support system

Opportunities—checking on optimal learning opportunities and appropriate intervention

Threat—finding ways to prevent further challenges and making certain accurate diagnosis is made

What RIOT Stands For:

Review relevant background information

Interview individuals who are close to the student

Observe patterns of behavior and interactions

Test the student using some of the recommended procedures



Cracking the Code: A Bilingual Case Study

The following is a fictionalized, composite case study based on several children seen by the author that illustrates the use of the SWOT and RIOT approaches in assessing K.P., a 6-year-old boy who is Taiwanese. He was evaluated in the summer of 2006 and a home visit was made as well.

The SWOT revealed: 

  • Strengths were noted in the following areas: ability to attend to highly familiar, structured tasks in the school setting as well as personally motivating activities; ability to understand routine-based language activities; ability to transition between regular education classroom and Special Day Care classroom; and ability to follow one- and two-step verbal directions.
  • Weaknesses were noted in the following areas: moderate-severe receptive and expressive language delay, characterized by deficits in both spoken and written language; a mild speech disorder, characterized by reduced intelligibility due to imprecise articulation, the use of jargon, and sound substitutions; limited social skills, characterized by reduced eye contact, limited social initiation, and a preference for self-directed activities; and difficulty attending to and transitioning between unstructured, unfamiliar tasks.
  • Opportunities include a focus on his expressive and receptive language skills, vocabulary, and pragmatics; an increase in social interaction opportunities with a variety of speech models by including typically developing peers, listeners, and conversational partners; and a focus on the delivery of messages using contextual cues. The parents should be encouraged to use interpreters to obtain information regarding his school performance, progress, and special education programming and procedures. Models should be provided for parents to work with him with a language-enriched environment at home by communicating with K.P. in the language in which they feel most competent and comfortable.
  • Threats include continued difficulty with communication skills. Although the prognosis for change with speech-language intervention is considered good in light of K.P.'s reported progress in school and the high level of support provided both at home and in school, the student requires monitoring and consistent intervention.

In addition, the use of the RIOT approach revealed the following: 

  • Review of medical record did not indicate any pregnancy or birthing complications. Review of the developmental record indicated late onset of speech and language in his home language and in English. Hearing examination revealed typical hearing. Social pragmatic development was delayed. K.P. did not play with his peers and also preferred to stay by himself.
  • Interview with parents revealed an unclear picture of what the parents wanted. An interview with the teacher revealed a lack of classroom participation as well as difficulty with speaking and weakness in reading and writing.
  • Observation revealed very different behaviors in the home and school environments. K.P. was difficult to deal with at home and seemed to be uncontrollable. At school he was quiet and did not participate very much, but generally followed the teacher's directions.
  • Testing was conducted bilingually. The tests revealed moderate-severe receptive and expressive language delay in both home language and English, characterized by deficits in both spoken and written language; a mild speech disorder in both Taiwanese and English, characterized by reduced intelligibility due to imprecise articulation, the use of jargon, and sound substitutions; limited social skills, characterized by reduced eye contact, limited social initiation, and a preference for self-directed activities; and difficulty attending to and transitioning between unstructured, unfamiliar tasks.


  

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