says ESL speakers often
mistakenly singled out for special ed
unintentional result of California's increasing diversity may be
an overtaxing of the state's special education programs. A California
State University, Sacramento professor says children learning English
as a second language are being referred to special education for
communication disorders more often than primary English speakers,
even though the incidence of communication disorders is the same
across ethnic groups.
Celeste Roseberry-McKibbin, a speech pathology and audiology professor
and speech therapist, first noticed the problem years ago as a school
speech therapist working with bilingual children and continues to
see it in her consulting role with a local school district. The
question is: Do they have underlying speech and language learning
problems or do they just need more time to learn English?
"Often, the children are referred because they aren't progressing
academically and have been slow to learn English," she says.
"It's important to differentiate a language difference versus
If the child's skills in his or her primary language are normal,
but he or she is behind in English, it may be a language difference
issue. But if the child is slow in both, it could be an underlying
"I look at patterns that are atypical for both languages,"
Roseberry-McKibbin says. If a child has underlying language issues
they may not be able to express themselves in appropriately long
sentences or comprehend and remember what they hear. They may have
difficulty with articulation, pronouncing their sounds. They may
incidence of speech problems is similar across ethnic groups, she
says, though multicultural kids are referred more often. It may
be because many teachers aren't familiar with the English acquisition
process. "For example, when exposed to a new language many
children go through a 'silent period' where they won't talk in either
language," Roseberry-McKibbin says.
Cultural differences may also play a factor. For example, if a child
has been referred for a delay in speaking, it's important to determine
if his or her culture encourages independence and early self-expression.
Many cultures don't expect children to do as much for themselves
as soon as Americans do, she says.
And while the prevailing view in this country is that stuttering
is a disability, some cultures don't see it that way. In fact, she
says, in some countries a disability may be considered a test of
character from God. In others, girls are expected to take on household
chores while boys aren't encouraged to attend to tasks or take on
responsibility at a young age. This can cause referrals for attention
deficit disorder, she says.
Roseberry-McKibbin has written a book for English speaking clinicians
working with bilingual students, The Source for Bilingual Students
with Language Disorders. It incorporates techniques from the fields
of second language acquisition and speech pathology. For instance,
instead of starting bilingual language-disordered students on talking
immediately, as with monolingual children, the therapist might start
with comprehension activities.
More information is available by calling the CSUS public affairs
office at (916) 278-6156.