PART IV — The Culturally Sensitive Individualization of Services and Supports
Given the great diversity among CLD youth with disabilities and their families, there are no universal rules for transition planning aside from one: the principle of individualization. Culturally competent strategies need to be used to support CLD students with disabilities and their families to express and develop their own transition goals and appropriate ways to achieve them (Wolfe, Boone, & Barrera, 1997). While it is not necessary to have a great deal of culturally specific information, it is important to establish a “cultural reciprocity” in which transition personnel develop cultural self-awareness and take the lead in establishing with youth and families a two-way process of cultural learning (Harry, Kalyanpur, & Day, 1999). The next section defines the process of cultural reciprocity, followed by several tools that can be used for individualized transition planning from a posture of cultural reciprocity.
The concept of cultural reciprocity is rooted in the idea that people cannot be sensitive to cultural differences unless they are first aware of the cultural assumptions that guide their own thinking and behavior. Like fish unaware of living in water, people tend to be unaware of being totally enveloped by their culture (Kalyanpur & Harry, 1997; 1999). One cultural assumption common in the American mainstream that is related to transition planning is that it is natural and desirable for adults to live independent of their parents. It becomes possible to be sensitive to cultural differences when you become aware of cultural assumptions. In this example, we become aware that it can also make cultural sense for adults to continue living in the household of an extended family that includes their parents.
Cultural reciprocity is a general approach that transition personnel can use to enhance relationships with all youth and families, regardless of their cultural backgrounds. If youth and families feel they have good relationships with personnel, then they are more likely to share their feelings and become real partners in transition planning and services.
The book Culture in Special Education: Building Reciprocal Family-Professional Relationships, outlines five key features of the posture of cultural reciprocity (Kalyanpur & Harry, 1999). It is a useful resource for transition personnel to use in developing effective collaborations with youth and their families.
Using Cultural Reciprocity
Effectively using the process of cultural reciprocity includes four steps:
Step 1: Identify the cultural values underlying interpretations of the situations involving youth and families. The key to this step is to ask, “Why?” Why, for example, might it seem important and natural to recommend that a youth in transition with developmental disabilities move from the family home to supported living and, eventually, independent living? Through self-reflection, the answer might turn out to be that independence and self-sufficiency are strongly held values that may or may not be shared by the youth and family. Self-reflection is a continuous process and the question “Why?” needs to be asked in each situation with each youth and family in order for individualization to be achieved.
Step 2: Explore the extent to which values and assumptions are recognized and accepted by the youth and family. If the youth and family do not view independent living as a milestone to adulthood, then this may not be an appropriate transition goal.
Step 3: Acknowledge any cultural differences, and explain to the youth and family how and why American mainstream culture promotes different values. For example, how the value of independent living has benefited other youth and families might be described, helping the youth and family to understand the cultural basis for professional recommendations.
Step 4: Collaborate with the youth and family to determine the most effective way of adapting professional interpretations and recommendations to the family value system. If, for example, parents understand the reasoning of personnel—that there will probably come a time when they won’t be there to support their child—then they may be more likely to want to develop a transition plan that enhances skills for independence and self-sufficiency.
Two barriers can make cultural reciprocity difficult to achieve (Kalyanpur & Harry, 1999). One barrier is the extra time that might be needed to get to know youth and families and engage in dialogue:
The other barrier is the mistaken belief that only personnel who are themselves of CLD heritage can work effectively with CLD youth and families (Kalyanpur & Harry, 1999). Research has indicated that personnel who have little or no affiliation with the culture of the families with whom they work can indeed establish effective collaborative relationships:
The following sections describe approaches demonstrated to be effective for customizing planning and services for people with disabilities. Adopting a posture of cultural reciprocity will help maximize the effectiveness of these approaches when working with youth and families from CLD backgrounds.
Person-centered planning is a proven approach for individualizing planning and services for people with disabilities (Artesani & Mallar, 1998; Flannery et al., 2000; Hagner, Helm, & Butterworth, 1996; Holburn, Jacobson, Vietze, Schwartz, & Sersen, 2000; Mount, O’Brien, & O’Brien, 1997; Whitney-Thomas, Shaw, Honey, & Butterworth, 1998). It is called “person-centered” to emphasize how it differs from the service-centered or program-centered approaches that were commonly used in the past. Service- or program-centered planning focuses on fitting the person into services or programs that are readily available. Program goals guide planning, with little consideration given to the wishes and goals of the person and his or her family.
Person-centered planning is a large step forward because it focuses on the person’s wishes and desires. A person with a disability chooses who he or she would like to be involved and sets the agenda for IEP or other service-planning meetings. Service providers, educators, family members, and other key people in the life of the individual explore his or her wishes, strengths, areas of needed support, and fears, and on this basis develop goals for the future and a plan to reach them. The process is flexible and readily adapted for use in cross-cultural situations (Callicott, 2003).
In person-centered planning, different goals may be appropriate along an individualistic-to-collectivistic continuum. It is therefore possible to identify individualistic and collectivistic models of person-centered planning. The contrasts between program-centered, individualistic person-centered, and collectivistic person-centered approaches are summarized in Table 5. A key characteristic of the collectivistic model of person-centered planning is that it is attuned to empowering individuals through empowering their families and communities.
Table 5. Comparison of Planning Approaches
Note. Adapted from Mount, Beeman, and Ducharme (1988) as cited in Knoll and Wheeler (2001, p. 525); and Partners in Policymaking, 2004.
Respectful and trusting relationships are the foundation of success in any collaborative activity. Transition personnel are best able to establish such relationships and prepare for planning meetings if they take the time and make the effort to become familiar with the background of the youth and family. Obtaining answers to the following questions will help determine where the values of a youth and their family may be along the continuum of individualistic and collectivistic values (Greene, 1996, p. 27):
Person-centered planning tools use interviewing and family involvement to create a plan of action for transition activities. These tools may be especially useful for CLD youth. Before describing some of these tools, it is important to note that culture influences parental styles of communication in transition planning meetings. For example, parents from Hispanic and Asian groups may have established patterns of interaction characterized by roles based on hierarchy, deference to authority, indirect confrontation, and maintenance of harmony and good relations. Because teachers are often viewed as being in positions of authority, parents from these groups may be reluctant to ask questions, fearing they might be viewed as questioning the teacher’s authority (Boone, 1992; Dennis & Giangreco, 1996). These communication styles seem counter to transition principles emphasizing equal partnerships of parents and teachers in the decision-making process and an assertive, direct communication style by all involved. Alternative communication styles must be honored and respected rather than viewed as lack of involvement or agreement by the parents.
Described below are several tools that provide frameworks for effectively involving youth and families in transition planning and also for giving personnel insight into each unique circumstance.
The concept of a “circle of friends” provides a social scan to identify the important people and activities in a youth’s life (Falvey, Forest, Pearpoint, & Rosenberg, 1997). This step provides a visual representation or foundation of the youth’s network of social support. It can be done informally with the youth and/or family prior to more formal planning meetings, in which case the completed circle would be presented and discussed at a planning meeting, or it can be done as part of a planning meeting.
A “circle of friends” starts with drawing four concentric circles (see Figure 1) and then writing the names of the appropriate people in each circle. The innermost circle is the “circle of intimacy.” These are the people closest to the youth, who are always there for help and support. The second circle moving towards the outer edge is the “circle of friendship.” This circle includes people who are friends, but not as close to the youth as those in the inner circle. Moving outward, the next is the “circle of participation.” These people may be considered acquaintances. The youth may say “hello” to these people or know their names, but they are not close friends. The youth knows these people by sight, but does not know much about their personal lives. Finally, the outermost circle is the “circle of exchange.” This circle includes the professionals who are paid to give help and support.
Figure 1. Circle of Friends
Falvey, M. A., Forest, M., Pearpoint, J., & Rosenberg, R. L. (1997).
These circles reveal the areas where social support is strong and where it needs to be strengthened. The circles also help identify key people who need to be involved in the planning process. A grandmother or uncle may actually be more involved in the youth’s day-to-day life than a parent and should therefore be invited to all school meetings where transition planning for the youth is taking place. Determining people of importance in the youth’s life is very important in planning next steps. While paid support people are necessary for some services (e.g., therapy or medical care), natural supports should be identified for as many situations as possible (e.g., community access, recreation, or employment).
Once the members of the planning team have been identified, it is time to bring them together to examine hopes and dreams. This process is called “making action plans” (MAPS). The MAPS process involves asking questions to gather important background information about the youth and family. This information is then used to create an action plan to achieve the transition goals of the youth and family.
Tool 1: Issues for Youth to Think About Before Transition Planning Meetings is an exercise that can help youth think about issues in preparation for a MAPS meeting and help personnel explain to the youth that this can help identify transition settings and outcomes that best match his or her strengths and interests.
Tool 2: MAPS Questions includes standard questions used to help transition personnel plan for MAPS meetings. Below these questions are specific questions that will help personnel gain a more comprehensive “map” of the experiences and background of the youth and family.
Tool 3: MAPS Sample: Putting It All Together—Kaleo's Profile shows a sample of a completed MAPS form by a Native Hawaiian youth named Kaleo.
The information and tools provided in this Essential Tool will prove enlightening and useful for transition personnel and others involved in supporting CLD youth with disabilities and their families. However, this Essential Tool only explores the surface of some very complex issues. For those interested in exploring these issues in greater depth, the following reference list provides a wealth of other relevant literature.
In addition, two books are specifically mentioned in the text: Lynch and Hanson’s (1998) Developing Cross-Cultural Competence: A Guide for Working with Children and Their Families (3rd Edition) and Kalyanpur and Harry’s (1999) Culture in Special Education: Building Reciprocal Family-Professional Relationships. Another book is a good companion to Culture in Special Education: Harry, Kalyanpur, and Day’s (1999) Building Cultural Reciprocity with Families: Case Studies in Special Education. This book also describes the rationale and process of cultural reciprocity and illustrates how it has been successfully used in eight in-depth case studies. Another valuable book is Bridging Cultures between Home and School: A Guide for Teachers, by Trumbull et al. (2001), which provides a clear and comprehensive overview of key issues, common individualistic-collectivistic contrasts encountered in the field of education, and effective approaches to dealing with problems that often arise from these contrasts. Numerous other resources of value are also available on the Internet. Following the reference list, a section describes a number of these resources.
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Citation: Leake, D., & Black, R. (2005). Essential tools: Cultural and linguistic diversity: Implications for transition personnel. Minneapolis,
MN: University of Minnesota, Institute on Community Integration, National
Center on Secondary Education and Transition.
This document was published by the National Center on Secondary Education and Transition (NCSET). NCSET is supported through a cooperative agreement #H326J000005 with the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs. Opinions expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of the U.S. Department of Education Programs, and no official endorsement should be inferred. The University of Minnesota, the U.S. Department of Education, and the National Center on Secondary Education and Transition are equal opportunity employers and educators.