Addressing Race

5 things to say & do when race enters your therapy room.

Once again our country is being forced to face the reality that many of us as Black people in America understood to be true for over 400 years, that our lives are not valued as high as other human beings in this nation.

As a wife of a Black man, mother of three Black children and a speech-language pathologist who serve a caseload of 80% Black students, I feel deep in my soul it is our responsibility to help our children understand what is happening, why it is happening and that they will be the change. If we all teach our children the importance of equality and the ugly, negative, and deadly impact of inequality and systemic racism has on communities, we will change the future.

I’ve read many comments on the various SLP social pages where many SLPs voiced their opposition and did not think it was appropriate for race to be injected into our profession. I strongly disagree, according to the National Institue of Deafness and other Communication Disorders (2017)

“Nearly one in 10, or 9.6 percent, of black children (ages 3-17) has a voice, speech, language, or swallowing disorder, compared to 7.8 percent of White children and 6.9 percent of Hispanic children.”

“Boys ages 3-17 are more likely than girls to have a voice, speech, language, or swallowing disorder (9.6 percent compared to 5.7 percent).1

Quick Statistics About Voice, Speech, Language. (2017, December 21). Retrieved from

This information indicates that most often the majority of our caseloads will include black males. There are also reports of significant increases in minority children identified with Autism. I know most of our graduate schools did not prepare us with proper multicultural issues in our profession but it can not be an excuse. Our small group/ one on one settings makes the SLPs the person many of our students trust the most. Some of your students will seek your communication and need your help to understand what is happening. How do we do that? How do we prepare our children to be better than what we have been in the past so that equality can be bigger than racism?

If you are an SLP or parent and do not know how to talk about race. Here are 5 suggestions on how to address race when it comes up. I’ve used these with my own groups and with my own children. This is a simple way to address the topic when it comes up.

1. Talk & Acknowledge Talk with your students or children. They are piecing sound bites, videos, pictures, and conversations together and they don’t understand. My seven year old asked, “why are people marching, didn’t we do that a long time ago?” That’s from a child who is a reader, knows a lot about Black History, and has been part of many discussions. In the fall, the topic will come up. We have to be the ones to help them understand.

Many may feel it is not their role to talk about this topic. I absolutely disagree. We serve children with special needs that require alternative and individualized modes of instruction. We are mandated to help prepare our students for academic and future endeavors. We are equipped to help our students with comprehension and that includes, history, social studies, and adaptive skills. You don’t have to have a complete lesson but don’t ignore students who ask and acknowledge their concerns and curiosity.

2. Tell the Truth: We have to be truthful with our children about this nation’s past. We can not sugar coat what has happened to bring the Black Community to be equated with something negative. We have to understand true history. No slaves were not happy with their slave owners, no they were not treated well, no slavery was not just working for free. No, when slaves were “freed” they were not freed. Yes, there were laws passed to prevent Black people from experiencing the American Dream. Yes, there were white people who fought alongside black people for equality. Tell the truth.

3. Teach Empathy: For something to be important to you, you have to have a personal stake in it. No, white people can not step into Black people’s skin but they can imagine if it were you. Imagine if in every aspect of our society your race has the worst of it. Education, health, safety, economics, housing, and job opportunities. We have to ask our children how would they feel if it were you. This is not just for white people, black people will have to do this too because our children do not know about these things until they are older. If we wait that long then it may be too late.

4. Take Action: Share with your students what they can do to practice treating their peers kindly right at school. Many schools use anti-bullying curriculums, school-wide behavior interventions, to let them know that what they have to do is what they are asked to do every day in school, in regards to interacting with their peers.

5. Support & Refer: Reassure your children that you can’t control what others may do but when they are in your presence they are safe, they are loved and valued. Let them know that anyone who doesn’t think they can do great things in this world are wrong. Reassure them that you know this as a fact and every time you see them you remind them of their greatness. Always tell your students to talk to their parents for more information and to make sure they share their feelings with their parents.

Here are 5 things you should NOT do:

  1. Provide your personal beliefs in the conversation (i.e., politics, religion). Stick to the facts.
  2. Have students reenact past events. Students do not need to reenact an event to share empathy.
  3. Do not allow one group of students to blame another group of students.
  4. If the topic arises do not shut your students up without taking, often a short time to provide accurate information.
  5. Do not connect negative behavior or stereotypes as a consequence of what has happened to Black People.

How race connects academically.

In my groups race usually comes up during Dr. Martin Luther King’s holiday and Black History Month. In the fall, hot topics will be COVID19 and Race. The topic of race falls under social studies, history, math (statistics), geography, and probably every other academic subject. You could target sequencing of events, understanding present, past, future; introduce vocabulary, discuss government, compare and contrast. The idea is not to provide your views but to adapt a very complex issue so that our students understand what’s happening around them. We are therapists working in educational settings and we have to provide therapy while educating our students.

Race has never been an easy issue and it will continue to be a touchy subject. However, you may be the person students seek to learn from and I hope this will give you some ideas on how to effectively address this topic.

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