Special needs teachers communicate multi-lingually with parents who have children with Intellectual Disabilities

Dr Jean Fourie and Vanessa Le Roux presented a paper at the EduLearn Conference, in Spain on 2 July 2018, entitled, ‘Children with Intellectual Disabilities: Bridging the communication gap between a special needs teacher and parents who speak African languages’

Parenting a child with an intellectual disability is stressful and teachers are confronted with parents’ emotionally-laden frustrations and concerns regarding their child’s developmental delays and appropriate education. Responding to parents concerns is particularly challenging where teachers and parents speak different languages. In this study, the teacher spoke English and the parents spoke English, Afrikaans, isiXhosa, isiZulu, Xitsonga, Setswana and Sesotho. Qualitative data were collected from an open-ended questionnaire and two focus groups with parents from a special needs class in a South African primary school. Thematic content analysis revealed that parents were unsure about the functioning of the special needs class. Parents needed advice regarding everyday challenges of parenting and expert information regarding the extent of the disability and the child’s future prognosis. Clear, on-going supportive, social-media channels of communication between the teacher and parents were established. Informal, inexpensive outings were arranged for the parents and children in order to promote friendships among the parents. The teacher designed a multi-lingual information brochure which addressed the parent’s concerns in user-friendly language. Multi-lingual teacher-parent partnerships improve the overall well-being of children with intellectual disabilities.