Delivering Clinical Services to Vietnamese Americans: Implications for Speech-Language Pathologists

Article excerpt

In order to prepare for a future in which speech-language pathologists (SLPs) might provide clinical services to an estimated 5% to 10% percent of the Vietnamese American community, this article offers a review and summary of the best of what we currently understand with regard to (a) Vietnamese history and immigration patterns; (b) probable demographics of consumers within the Vietnamese American community who would need services; (c) the culture and structure of the Vietnamese American family, including the influence of the community on the family; and (d) traditional Vietnamese medical practices contrasted to those of the European American community. The article summarizes six broad guiding principles for SLPs to follow when contemplating the provision of service delivery to Vietnamese American clients. Additional references are provided for practitioners wishing to extend their competencies beyond the scope of this preliminary review.


Over the past 25 years, there has been a large influx of Vietnamese immigrants and refugees to the United States. In 1997, the U.S. Bureau of the Census estimated that there were 849,000 Vietnamese Americans in the United States, representing 8.4% of the total Asian and Pacific Islander population (T.-U. Nguyen, Dale, & Gleason, 1998). By the year 2000, Vietnamese Americans were projected to be the third largest Asian and Pacific Islander population in this country.

Although the Vietnamese American population in the United States is growing, relatively little about its specific history or culture is known by most speech-language pathologists (SLPs). This population shares some characteristics with other Asian and Pacific Islander groups, but many aspects of its history and culture are unique. Of particular importance to the field of speech-language pathology is the Vietnamese attitude toward individuals with disabilities. Even fewer reports are available to help clinical practitioners understand the attitudes of the Vietnamese American population toward persons with communication difficulties. Anecdotal reports and studies of other Asian American populations have indicated that some Asian immigrants have difficulty understanding or accepting individuals with disabilities (Ryan & Smith, 1989; Sonnander & Claesson, 1997).

This article provides an introductory overview of Vietnamese American culture and traditions in order to assist SLPs in preparing clinical service delivery to consumers within this growing population. The objectives were to (a) outline the history and immigration patterns of this community, in both the distant past and projected future; (b) provide information about demographics and the little that is known concerning Vietnamese Americans' attitudes toward disabilities; (c) describe the structure of the family, including the influence of the community on the family; and (d) summarize traditional Vietnamese medical practices and contrast them with to those of the European American community.

In 2000, SLPs as a group were still predominately European American by ethnicity and culture. If SLPs are going to be expected to provide clinical services to the Vietnamese American population, they will need access to information about the values, beliefs, traditions, and practices of members of this group in order to make reasonable and culturally appropriate recommendations regarding clinical interventions. Using demographic data and the clinical experiences and observations of a group of professionals with expertise in diversity training, this article will map out preliminary culturally appropriate implications for SLPs wishing to provide services to consumers within Vietnamese American communities. Each historical summary of the literature is followed by a brief discussion of the implications for SLPs. Readers seeking more in-depth discussions are referred to the extensive reference section on "Additional Resources" at the end of this article. …