Tips for Communicating with Parents When You Don’t Speak Their Language

  • August 18, 2019
  • Tera Rowland

Communicating a child’s success and needs in therapy with parents is one of the most important things clinicians do. It truly is a team effort to generalize successful outcomes from the therapy room and carry them over into the home. This can be complicated when you do not share a language in common with parents. In many schools throughout the country, there can be dozens of different languages spoken in the homes of students and finding ways to help parents access and share information is crucial for continued success.

Different Ways to Connect

All parents should feel comfortable sharing their concerns with the clinician and sometimes it is harder to facilitate this when there is a language difference. It is important to understand the language and dialect of the language the family is using.   In addition to this, determine whether the language has a written form, as this will impact whether you can have forms translated. This is when it’s important to reach out to others in your school community or area for resources and assistance.

Make connections in your larger community to see who is available to assist with increasing your understanding of their culture and language. A bilingual liaison can also help you build your library of resources by helping you find and access materials in the home language.  This is a way to get information that can be used with a parent without compromising their child’s right to confidentiality.

When it’s time to have a meeting, be sure that someone is available to assist with interpretation. If you are working in a school district, contact a lead SLP to determine the procedures for securing a language interpreter. Allot time prior to the meeting, to review your expectations for the meeting and to review any terms that may be challenging. The interpretation process should be explained to parents so that they are comfortable asking any questions which they may have. Be sure to explain any skills or activities that you would like to have parents target at home and provide visual examples to support them.  Don’t forget to make sure you schedule meetings when they will be able to attend them. Be flexible and make it work for all involved.

It’s also nice to be able to have the child help share their success with their families.  Creating a visual report of what the student did in therapy will help them better be able to communicate their success at home. They can help to document what they did in therapy and come up with a plan for practicing new skills at home.

Assisting with Access to Technology

Technology is also a way to connect with families who you don’t share a language in common with. Not all families have a computer or internet access at home. There may be community groups who are able to assist with getting them connected. While no internet or computer at home may have been perceived as a roadblock in the past, it isn’t the case now.   Many families have access to a smartphone. This means that they are able to get online or use apps to check in and to translate materials.

Online access to translators is a starting point. Of course, there are even more tools these days. An app called Bloomz is available to coordinate communication with all families. Bloomz is a free app which you can use to communicate with parents. This will work on phones that only text, a computer, or smartphone.  The beauty of this is that it is able to translate communication into more than 84 languages. Not only can you share photos of the student’s work and videos of demonstrations, you can share a calendar as well. They will be able to keep up on daily happenings and get invites to events and meetings which they will be able to understand.

What have you done in your school to help with therapy communication with parents who do not speak your language? Please share what has worked well for you and anything you have had to change to help more.

Creating Student IEP Plans

An Individualized Education Program (IEP) is created for a child with a disability. An IEP sets out to identify and meet the unique needs of each child. Each IEP will allow team members (parents, classroom teacher, special education teacher, therapists, and others from district) discuss the plan, resolve differences, commit to resources, and set ways to monitor progress. The way this process starts is a referral from within the school or from families.

Determining Eligibility and Setting Goals

Once a child is referred to a special education committee, they must be evaluated for eligibility. Under IDEA, there are currently 13 categories in a child may receive services. This includes autism, hearing impairment emotional disturbance, multiple disabilities, specific learning disability, and more. After receiving permission from parents, the district has 60 days to begin and complete the evaluation.

The type of testing will depend on the individual child. If this is the first time that a child is tested, there will usually be a variety of performance-based tests, along with cognitive and behavioral functioning tests. In addition to this, they may want to invite an occupational therapist, physical therapist, or speech pathologist to gather further data about the child’s gross motor, fine motor, and speech/language needs.

Reports by each of the therapists must be completed. These will include data on how the child did in each of the areas looked at. In addition to this, they will note areas of deficits and what may help the child. For each area, everyone will be looking at a discrepancy between achievement and ability to see if there is an impact on the student’s education caused by one of the 13 qualifying categories

Writing and Presenting the Plan

Prior to the IEP meeting, parents will be given copies of the reports so they may ask questions ahead of time. At the meeting, each therapist will share what they found and how testing went with the child. Strengths, weaknesses, and more will be discussed. Teachers and parents are able to share again how this impacts the child’s academic, social, and emotional needs while learning.

If a child is eligible for an IEP, then the next step is to determine how many days of services they will need to have each week. Will the sessions be individual or with a group? Perhaps the therapist will push into the classroom to assist during a writing or reading center. Then measurable goals need to be set so they can be monitored at least quarterly and reported back.  Goals on the IEP will be broken down by specific areas and will include social, emotional, and academic needs.

The IEP plan will have the goals which will measure progress in areas of need. The purpose of a goal is for it to be achievable within a year and able to be progress monitored with data. In addition to this, the IEP needs to include any accommodations and modifications. This would include any changes to the classroom that will assist the student. Perhaps they need a special seat that works better for them. Maybe they need to have certain pencil grips to help them with their fine motor work. As for the modification, it may be presenting a student with only a portion of the work. Rather than being given 10 sentences to write, they may only have half because it is challenging enough with their needs.

How do you work as a team in your school to create student IEP plans? Share some of your best practices which have worked well for all involved.



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