ERIC Identifier: ED457633
Publication Date: 2001-08-00
Author: Warger, Cynthia
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Disabilities and Gifted Education Arlington VA.
Cultural Reciprocity Aids Collaboration with Families.
The tension between Jim and Annette is obvious. Jim is a new transition
coordinator assigned to work with Annette's son, Renaldo, who has Down syndrome.
A fervent believer in self-determination for students with disabilities, Jim has
been trying unsuccessfully to convince Annette that Renaldo should move into a
group home after graduation. Annette has flatly refused to even consider the
move. Jim attributes her resistance to overprotectiveness, but this could not be
farther from the truth.
Annette wants Renaldo to develop into manhood. It's just that she was raised
to believe that a child's first step to adulthood is to become a full-fledged
family member by contributing to the family income. She doesn't understand why
Jim thinks his way is better--after all, this arrangement is working well for
her other son and his wife, who have almost saved enough for a down payment on
their own home.
This can be typical of what happens when a service provider and family member
from different cultural backgrounds meet for the first time. If the parent's
perspective of the world is similar to the service provider's, then a positive
connection generally occurs. However, if the parent holds a belief system
different than the service provider's, difficulties typically arise. The source
of the difficulty may be different points of view that are defined and limited
by cultural orientation.
Helping families and service providers-including teachers, related service
providers, para-educators, and others-from different cultural orientations find
mutual ground for communication has been the focus of a substantive body of work
conducted by University of Miami researcher, Beth Harry, and her colleagues
Monimalka Day and Maya Kalyanpur. To be successful at this, service providers
must take the initiative in building a bridge between the cultures of diverse
families and the culture of schools. Harry and her colleagues advocate that
professionals initiate a two-way process of information sharing and
understanding called Cultural Reciprocity.
ABOUT CULTURAL RECIPROCITY
According to Harry, stumbling
blocks often arise when service providers and families do not recognize and
accept the other's culture. Consider the assumptions that may be made about a
disability. Western culture typically views disability from a clinical
perspective. The following four assumptions underlie a clinical perspective of
* Disability is a physical phenomenon.
* Disability is an individual phenomenon.
* Disability is a chronic illness.
* Disability requires remediation or fixing.
Other cultures may view disability quite differently. For example, the
following assumptions about disability contrast sharply with the medical or
* Disability is a spiritual phenomenon.
* Disability is a group phenomenon (e.g., the family and society are causal
* Disability is a time-limited phenomenon.
* Disability must be accepted, which affects whether the family seeks
Thus, while a service provider may view disability as a physical
phenomenon-something that can be measured and treated in a scientific way-a
parent may, as a result of cultural background, view disability as a blessing or
a punishment to be treated by spiritual means. Unless the service provider
recognizes his or her own assumptions in the context of this interchange, he or
she may judge the parent as irrational.
A premise of the Cultural Reciprocity process is that service providers must
develop their own cultural self-awareness in order to recognize the cultural
underpinnings of their professional practice. This, in turn, facilitates
conversations with the families with whom they interact and enables them to
better identify the values and beliefs that underlie the family's priorities,
goals, and visions for their child.
In the Cultural Reciprocity process, each step informs the others. The steps
and an example from Harry's research are presented below:
1: Identify the cultural values in your interpretation of a student's
difficulties or in the recommendation for service.
Imagine that you have recommended that a young adult with developmental
disabilities move out of the family home into a small group home or supported
apartment. Ask yourself which values underlie your recommendation. For many of
us, central to our recommendation will be the values of equity, independence,
and individuality. Next, analyze your experiences that contributed to your
holding these values. Consider the role of nationality, culture, socio-economic
status, and professional education in shaping your values.
2: Find out whether the family members being served recognize and value your
assumptions, and if not, how their views differ from yours.
Imagine that the family members do not consider a group home an option for their
child. Here are some possible reasons for their position. They view adult
independence as either marriage or bringing in an income adequate to support
other family members. Thus, family members do not view living independently as a
milestone to adulthood for any of their children-including their young adult
child with developmental disabilities. In fact, an older sister and her husband
live in the home. Finally, the family may perceive equality differently for the
child with a disability, either in terms of vulnerability or in relation to
values (e.g., individuality is not highly valued in the culture or family).
3: Acknowledge and give explicit respect to any cultural differences identified,
and fully explain the cultural basis of your assumptions.
After listening to the family's response, share any value differences held by
yourself and mainstream professionals. Using the example of the young adult with
developmental disabilities, this might mean explaining how and why U.S. society
values and defines independence. You might share some of the benefits other
families and adult children have experienced with residential group homes. By
explaining your views from a cultural perspective, you allow the family to
understand the basis for your recommendations.
4: Through discussion and collaboration, set about determining the most
effective way of adapting your professional interpretations or recommendations
to the value system of this family.
Although the family may not want out-of-home placement for the child, they may
have other needs. The challenge becomes one of working out a solution that
respects the family system while at the same time providing other types of
support they will need. In this example, the family has identified that it
values children who contribute income toward the family. Thus, you might suggest
pursuing Social Security Disability income or focus on employment opportunities
for the individual with disabilities. Or, you might investigate whether home
renovations might be undertaken that result in a semi-independent living
arrangement within the family home.
"Not understanding how culture influences our assumptions about disability
can have serious implications" says Harry. She found one example in Puerto Rico
where people tend to view disabilities as more severe conditions. That is, less
severe, high incidence disabilities, such as mild learning disabilities, are
often not seen as disabilities, but simply as individual characteristics within
the normal range. Harry reported that when parents from Puerto Rico realized
that their views were not valued by Anglo service providers, they stopped
participating in their child's educational process.
TAKE THE FIRST STEP
Cultural Reciprocity facilitates
conversations with families that can identify the values and beliefs that
underlie priorities, goals, and visions for the child. As service providers
learn about themselves and the families with whom they work, the families also
acquire knowledge about the special education system that may enable them to
make better-informed decisions about services. An observed outcome of Cultural
Reciprocity is more positive relationships and more reasonable goals that
eventually are implemented.
Implementing Cultural Reciprocity begins when a service provider takes the
first step-to identify the values that are embedded in his or her own
interpretation of a student's difficulties or in the recommendation for service.
The learning process requires a commitment to seek understanding, at every
interaction, of ourselves and the families we serve.
CULTURAL ASSUMPTIONS UNDERLYING THE INDIVIDUALS WITH
DISABILITIES EDUCATION ACT (IDEA)
Individualism in IDEA: IDEA provides that each child
is entitled to a free appropriate public education. This principle is based on
the assumption that the individual, not society, comes first; thus, there is an
individual focus for all education service programming and due process. Further,
the assumption is that children will develop the skills they need to acquire a
job and become independent, productive citizens.
Choice in IDEA: Choice is embedded in IDEA in the principles of least
restrictive environment and parent participation. Tension exists when schools
seek to limit the continuum of services offered or available resources that
parents may choose from.
Equity in IDEA: Underlying the principles of zero reject, nondiscriminatory
assessment, and parent participation in IDEA is the value of equity. Excluding
students with disabilities is perceived as a discriminatory act.
ERIC/OSEP Special Project (Fall 2001). Family
involvement in special education. Research Connections in Special Education
(number 9). Arlington, VA: The ERIC Clearinghouse on Disabilities and Gifted
Education. Available online at http://ericec.org.
Harry, B., Kalyanpur, M., & Day, M. (1999). Building Cultural Reciprocity
with families. Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co.
Harry, B., Rueda, R., & Kalyanpur, M.(1999). Cultural reciprocity in
sociocultural perspective: Adapting the normalization principle for family
collaboration. Exceptional Children, 66 (1), 123-136.
Kalyanpur, M., & Harry, B. (1999). Culture in special education.
Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co.