Communication challenges complicate the process of providing resources to multilingual learners with disabilities | New

The following article was published on September 22, 2021 in the Santa Maria Sun – Volume 22, Number 30 [ Submit a Story ]

The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] – Volume 22, number 30

Communication challenges complicate the process of providing resources to multilingual learners with disabilities


Mariana Murillo learned about her son’s special educational needs through an interpreter. For two or three years, Murillo attended Individualized Education Program (IEP) meetings that she couldn’t understand.

“I remember having my first IEP meeting, and for me it was just a meeting. I don’t remember if anyone explained the importance of the meeting or if I understood everything, ”said Murillo, whose son is now 23.

When Oscar Lopez, 23, was young, his mother, Mariana Murillo, set up her son’s IEP (Individualized Education Program) for cerebral palsy, severe disability and learning English to special education needs through an interpreter.

School district and county officials worked with Murillo via an interpreter to contract for his child to receive resources from the district for his cerebral palsy and severe disabilities, and to learn English. Now, as the Family Resource Coordinator for Alpha Resource Center, a nonprofit organization that helps people with intellectual and developmental disabilities through family support, adult and youth services, and other resources , Murillo helps other families meet the challenges of IEP meetings and other resources.

“We have monthly parent meetings where we try to present different topics, and there is a lot to discuss, including social security benefits, special education workshops and organizing files or documents,” said she declared.

Currently, there are more than 8,616 students in the county with IEPs, and among them, 2,106 are multilingual, according to Ray Avila, area director of the local county special education plan (SELPA).

In the Santa Maria-Bonita school district alone, more than half of students with disabilities are also multilingual, according to Erik Thompson, the district’s director of special education. This means that 824 students have IEPs and language needs, and some come from families who speak neither English nor Spanish.

On September 17, a Mixtec-speaking mother called the Alpha Family Resource Center confused after she had a meeting with the school district to set up services for her disabled child with multilingual learning (formerly known as learning from English).

“It’s complicated for the Mixteco families. They can’t read Spanish and they can’t read English, resulting in a lack of communication between families and providers due to the language barrier, ”said Murillo. “When there is an IEP meeting, we [parents] intimidate because there are a lot of professional and technical terms. Lots of emotions are involved.

Alpha Resource Center has partnered with SELPA – a county agency that serves students with disabilities and provides resources to families and teachers – on a collaborative approach to better serve multilingual learners with disabilities in the 25 districts of the county through outreach parents. They collaborated to hold a back-to-school workshop where the county public health department spoke up and provided interpreters at the event, but the SELPA registration process was difficult, said Murillo.

“The registration forms were not in Spanish and people could only register online. When you finally found the link to register, it wasn’t easy as all questions were in English only. There was also no phone number to call and register, ”she said.

Often the families Murillo works with do not have internet access or own a computer, she said, and browsing a website on a phone can be difficult.

“It’s just frustrating to invite and encourage Spanish families to participate, but then see how difficult it is to register,” she continued.

Alpha Resource Coordinator Norma Puga said SELPA needs to refine its initial contact with non-English speaking parents.

“SELPA needs to improve the way it reaches families, making sure every family in their county is informed about city meetings and training and making sure it is in their language. Having all of their material in English and Spanish is something that SELPA is lacking right now, ”Puga said.

SELPA’s main web page is in English only, which allows families to navigate the site to find resources in Spanish, and there is no bilingual staff member to answer phone calls if parents have concerns. questions, Murillo pointed out.

SELPA coordinator Jennifer Connolly said the agency is currently working on interpreting its website into multiple languages ​​and hiring a bilingual staff member.

“It takes time and labor; we juggle a lot and we have a very small team at SELPA. We wear a ton of hats, ”she said.

Getting feedback from families is a barrier, Connolly said, SELPA said when it comes to making improvements within the organization.

“There are almost 9,000 students in our county with an IEP. If it doesn’t fall on an administrator’s desk, there’s no way to fix it, ”she said.

Puga said Alpha often works with parents to overcome cultural barriers when it comes to raising concerns about their child.

“Many of our Spanish speaking families are embarrassed or too proud to ask for services. They may also be afraid for their legal status; we want to make sure that these barriers do not prevent them from receiving the services their child needs, ”said Puga. “We talk to parents and encourage them to say that everything is important for children to receive services and that they should share the information with other parents. The more people who are aware of disability, the better.

Puga and Murillo mentor families before meetings and workshops, helping them make a list of questions and putting together resources for families to read. If county resources were available in the family’s native language, they would be more comfortable standing up for themselves, Puga said.

“It’s a more welcoming environment and parents feel more open to sharing their family situation,” she said.

Murillo said interpreter services should also make meetings and workshops more welcoming to parents who don’t speak English very well.

“There are a lot of technical words, and if they don’t know the terminology, that makes it even more difficult. Sometimes they don’t use the right words to translate, or they get lost because they are thinking about which word to use, ”she said.

Connolly said SELPA is working to improve communication through a translation and interpretation workshop that will give interpreters the tools they need to break down information and learn terminology from the world of education, including especially for IEP meetings.

“We have been doing this training for a while and the interpreters gain a lot from it. A lot of our performers have gone from person to person to Zoom, which has been a huge achievement, ”said Connolly. “You want everyone to understand and the message to be very clear. We want to break everything down into terms that families can understand while still giving them the respect they deserve. It is absolutely important to get this family feedback.

A clear explanation from an interpreter is crucial if the county wants comment, Puga said.

“If someone doesn’t take the time to talk to them about disability or how it affects their child, they don’t have the big picture. If it isn’t explained to them, they won’t know it’s a problem, ”Puga said.

It is also important that parents get to know their child on their own, she continued.

“This is how we help our families, give them ideas and teach them to discover the strengths of their children. Parents need to educate themselves about their child’s talents and passions, ”Puga said. “Getting to know your child is a huge benefit for the IEP to get these services. The key point is communication.

Contact editor Taylor O’Connor at [email protected]

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