If there’s one major takeaway when it comes to systemic inequality, it’s how race and class can affect a child’s education and subsequent experience in life. The systems in place that often put children of color at a disadvantage have especially been scrutinized over the past year, and as Dionna Latimer-Hearn points out during our most recent episode, those conversations do extend to speech-language pathology. In her research on African American English, Dionna discovered that only 24 percent of SLPs were regularly receiving training on how to address students who speak using different dialects. Unfortunately, however, ignorance surrounding how different dialects contribute to the Black-white achievement gap can lead to misdiagnosing speech disorders and can negatively impact the overall treatment.

This is why Dionna spends so much of her time spreading awareness about such issues, through Facebook groups and professional development courses. She’s gone back to school to delve deeper into the underlying issues that so often put AAE students at a disadvantage. But what can speech-language pathologists who don’t know as much about the topic do to learn more about it and ensure they’re giving these students a voice?

Seek Out Resources

If one thing was clear after speaking with Dionna, it’s this: The resources needed to address and accurately assess those speaking different dialects are out there. From academic studies and articles to videos and podcasts, the information is available in abundance. This is an area of speech pathology that has been studied for decades, and with the internet at our fingertips, it’s easier than ever to find information about it.

That being said, initiatives like Dionna’s Respect the Dialect Facebook group round up these resources and make them more readily available to SLPs looking to learn and grow. After taking the first step to seek out such platforms and studies, SLPs will be able to use their resources to better themselves and their treatment plans.

Elevate The Importance

Although there are certainly resources out there for SLPs to educate themselves with, Dionna pointed to an overwhelming issue with the way higher education approaches treating clients with different dialects. Although speech pathology programs do tend to address this area of treatment, it’s typically done in one class period or one course over an entire semester — meaning students learn about AAE and then move on. Unfortunately, this setup downplays the importance of accounting for such things. 

If SLPs are hoping to make true changes, putting a greater emphasis on AAE in undergrad and graduate curriculums would be a step in the right direction.

Give Everyone a Voice

One of Dionna’s goals in being an SLP — and specifically, one who advocates for marginalized groups — is to give everyone a voice. And when it comes to spreading awareness and embracing advocacy, that’s something all SLPs should strive to do. Listening to experiences outside of our own is how SLPs can bridge divides and, hopefully, better understand the communities they’re serving. Gaining that fundamental understanding is the only way to truly provide effective treatment. And that’s something all of us should be setting out to do.

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