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Bilingual benefits: improving therapy by co-working

Usha Marawaha, Kim Davidson-Kelly and Fiona Whyte talk about their experiences of working together with bilingual children and their families

Usha Marawaha comments: I have been working at the NHS Greater Glasgow speech and language therapy department for eight years and am currently a bilingual co-worker.

Bilingual co-workers are able to introduce an appropriate ethnic flavour to help families feel comfortable with the materials used.

I previously worked as a speech and language therapy assistant for three years with monolingual children, which gave me great experience.

Being a speaker of Punjabi/Urdu/English and Gujarati, and having a knowledge of cultural awareness, has benefited my work with children and families from bilingual backgrounds, as well as in helping them interact with SLTs and other professionals.

I really enjoy my job as a bilingual co- worker. It is challenging because I get the opportunity to work with children from all client groups, including autism, hearing impairment, dysfluency, speech and language disorders, eating and drinking difficulties, physical disability, visual impairment and various other language and communication difficulties.

I find it very rewarding to be able to explain to families/extended families, the therapy given to their children or to carry out training with parents using therapy programmes. I often give news of diagnoses in their mother tongue.

It is very important for parents to be able to understand what is happening to their child, as this enables them to ask any relevant questions. I support and assist SLTs in assessments and the management of the child, parents and extended families.

I carry out first assessments in the mother tongue with the SLT. I can also provide language samples, translate and jointly

analyse these with the SLT, and help with information taken from family to assist the SLT’s diagnoses.

Working in various settings, including moderate and complex learning difficulty schools, mainstream schools, nursery, homes and clinics, I carry out programmes under the guidance of an SLT, conveying their advice to parents and extended family.

I feel that it is not always easy for SLTs to work with a co-worker, as success depends on the trust built up between them. The co- worker has to accept the directions of the SLT and both have to respect each other’s role. It is fair to say that SLTs may sometimes have to share control of a situation if working with a co-worker. They may feel they are being left out or have lost control, as the conversation takes place in an unfamiliar language. The SLT has to trust the co-worker, who often has to use more language to interpret the SLT’s

advice or questions to parents.

Co-workers sometimes have to listen very carefully to the long responses given by the parents before giving feedback to the SLT. My job is to explain what a parent is saying, but I have to use my own discretion on the interpretation. I am able to identify and advise on cultural issues that could impact on the child’s therapy that the SLT may not have considered. However, I will always include the SLT if something is uncertain or unclear and I do not make any decisions or give advice without first asking the SLT.

I also provide culturally-appropriate therapy materials, including alternative and augmentative communication, communication books/passport and symbols, both for parents to use with their child at home and at school. I often adapt materials to suit the child, for example if a mummy in a story is wearing salwar kameez

Sam Tanner

bulletin April 2006


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