Culture and Send

Culture and SEND

We have talked about the additional duties SEND parents often have to deal with. Here we take that a little further and look at how cultural issues can influence the way a parent interacts with you:

1. SEND is viewed differently around the world

Definitions of what a special need or disability is differs between countries and cultures. Some languages do not have words for certain conditions, especially mental illness and autism. This may mean you are not using the same terms or have the same understanding of certain words. It also means you may have different understandings of the child’s needs.

Solution: Make sure that you and the parents understand each other properly. Clarify what you mean by the terms you use. Check parents comprehend by asking them to explain their understanding of a term. Make sure you are both clear and happy with definitions. 

2. Stigma/ culture may be a barrier to communication

There can be a cultural or social stigma attached to disability and parents may not be used to discussing their child’s special needs openly with other people. This can exacerbate feelings of isolation and lack of acceptance.

Solution: Talk in general terms to the parents and use examples to show that families are not alone in what they are experiencing. Explain the positive outcomes of discussing issues openly.

3. Stigma prevents parents from talking about themselves

The same stigmas can also prevent parents from admitting they need additional help themselves. 

Solution: Offer all parents a range of options for maintaining communication – phone calls, face to face updates, home-school book, emails, etc. Allow them to choose the method that suits them best.

A blue character stands with their hand over their mouth.


 4. There are disabilities that have their own culture and norms. 

For example, the profoundly deaf, signing community have a strong sense of their culture, or the paediatric cancer community which has its own language – e.g. words such as ‘scanxiety’. 

Solution: Offer all parents a range of options for maintaining communication – phone calls, face to face updates, home-school book, emails, etc. Allow them to choose the method that suits them best. 

5. Some SEND behaviours might be confused with cultural behaviours and vice versa

For example, in the UK children are expected to be able to use a knife and fork to eat at school. However, in many cultures it is customary to eat with hands or use different implements. Eye contact is another example of how cultures differ. A child making eye contact with you can be considered defiant in one country and confident or honest in another; and a child refusing to look you in the eye can be considered respectful in one country and defiant or untrustworthy in another. Of course, lack of eye contact can also be a sign of a child who has autism or social anxiety – so when presented with a child who does not look at you is it respect, defiance or an undiagnosed condition? 

Solution: When children exhibit certain behaviours, such as eating with hands or not looking at you in the eye, find out what the norm is at home. Expected behaviour at home and at school may be two different things. 

Again, you are not expected to know everything about every culture – that’s impossible – but you can ask questions. Showing you are interested and willing to hear different ideas, helps build strong and open relationships. 

Two blue characters with triangles for noses. One is a child, looking at the floor, the other is an adult looking at the child with a confused look on his face.

Key Learning Points

1. Cultural differences can lead to teachers misinterpreting a child’s behaviour and a misdiagnosis of special educational needs.  

2. Learn a little more about the culture of the children in your class and how they live at home by asking questions and listening to the children and the parents.

Discussion Points

~ How were you raised? 

~ Is there anything you do at home that someone else might not understand?

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