Sunny Days Blog

The Importance of Culturally-Sensitive Early Intervention Practices

Two Hands Holding

Our cultural backgrounds and experiences color our view of “normal.”   It would be simple (yet extremely boring) if we were all part of the same cultures and held the same beliefs, but this is not the situation.  It’s important that we recognize this fact in order to best provide culturally-sensitive early childhood and autism services. 

Although there are published norms and milestones for a variety of developmental skills, we need to consider those data in the context of our clients’ cultural backgrounds.  Culture can include, but is not limited to, the following categories: socioeconomic status, child-rearing practices, race, ethnicity, gender identification, sexuality, and religion. 

If you differ from clients in any cultural area, you must acknowledge these cultural differences, be culturally sensitive to them, and modify your procedures and recommendations accordingly.  To help demonstrate how this can and should be done, this blog post will highlight child-rearing practices and how they can impact our Early Intervention service delivery.


The Importance of Considering Child-Rearing Practices in Early Intervention

Child-rearing practices are the ways in which children are raised.  These practices vary tremendously from family to family.  In fact, no two people reading this post will have had the exact same experiences as a child.  It is easy to let our cultural beliefs and upbringing impact how we practice, but these exact beliefs may be in direct conflict with the families whom we are trying to serve.  

Let’s consider two polar opposite child-rearing beliefs:

1. Parents/caregivers should actively play and communicate with their children.


2. Children should only play with other children and should be “seen, not heard.” 

It is very possible that you will meet a family who holds one of these child-rearing views.  Because these views are distinctly different, the family who holds view 1 should not have the same  EI experience as the family who holds view 2. 


There are a number of ways that the services for these two families could differ.  In fact, I’m sure you’re thinking of a few different examples as you read this.  But for the purposes of this post, I’d like to explain one possible scenario.

Family 1 is likely already engaging in play and conversing with their child due to their child-rearing beliefs, so to help expand the parent/child interaction within this family, you may need to highlight the types of conversation and play that are appropriate for their particular child’s level. 

Alternatively, for Family 2, the family who is likely not actively playing or conversing with their child, you may have to explain the benefits of teaching children through play and begin at a very basic level of interaction.  By meeting the family where they are, you will have an easier time gaining acceptance and participation.  


When beginning an initial interaction with our EI clients, it’s imperative that we learn more about the family, their culture, and their routines.  In doing so, we can offer the most appropriate and culturally-sensitive recommendations and strategies. 

By starting this conversation from day one, you will build a strong rapport with the family, which, in turn, will allow for the greatest impact on your client’s life.  Closely aligning our recommendations and strategies with the family’s cultural norm(s) will allow for buy-in and, therefore, the most successful therapy outcomes.


Courtney Caruso, M.S., CCC-SLP

Courtney Caruso, M.S., CCC-SLP is a bilingual (English/Spanish) speech-language pathologist and the owner and founder of Liberty Speech Associates LLC, a speech therapy practice located in Hackettstown, NJ. She is also the co-author of the book From Meals to Milestones: 35 Delicious Dishes to Encourage Child Development. For more information about Courtney, visit her website at