Understanding the Vietnamese American Community: Implications for Training Educational Personnel Providing Services to Children with Disabilities

Article excerpt

Professionals who provide special educational services to as many as 10% of the children in the Vietnamese American community will benefit from increased knowledge of this population. This article serves two purposes: (a) to review Vietnamese immigration patterns, history and cultural beliefs, medical traditions, attitudes toward education, and family structure; and (b) to report the results from a survey of Vietnamese Americans regarding attitudes toward disabilities. Specifically, the attitudes of a group of 43 Vietnamese Americans toward children with disabilities are described. Through a discussion of the responses of two immigrant groups to a 29-item survey instrument, the first generation and the group known as the "1.5 generation" revealed their attitudes toward inclusion of children with disabilities and communication disorders. A deeper understanding of the Vietnamese American community might lead some practitioners to offer more appropriate educational programming that is mindful of the children served.

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Special educators are interacting with an increasingly diverse population of families who require special services. As teachers enter the 21st century, there is a growing need to become knowledgeable about families from diverse cultural and ethnic backgrounds, in addition to learning the most appropriate educational strategies to serve them. Because of rapid changes in the global economy, immigration policies, and technology, special educators are finding themselves having increased contact with children and families who are culturally different and in need of academic services. In many large and small communities, school providers need to acquire additional knowledge regarding different cultural practices to manage their classrooms appropriately and mindfully.

When professionals seek new knowledge about issues of cultural diversity, there is sometimes the tendency to overgeneralize characteristics associated with one culturally diverse group to all culturally diverse populations. This tendency can be modified through the study of different cultures. An examination of cultural differences shows that different beliefs, values, and communication styles really do "make a difference" in intercultural encounters (Ting-Toomey, 1999). Although it may appear difficult to locate specific literature on a particular population, information is becoming increasingly available from a broader base of researchers, access to specific populations, language differences, and use of interpreters. Barriers to conducting cross-cultural research are slowly being removed (Huer & Parette, 1999). A careful reading of the literature reveals that resources are emerging to assist in understanding populations that have recently immigrated to the United States. One such group is the Vietnamese American population.

Instructional personnel in educational settings may be asked to provide special services to as many as 10% of children within the Vietnamese American community. It is quite probable that many teachers are unaware of traditional Vietnamese medicinal practices and potential interactions between historical religious beliefs and health care. In the first part of this article, a brief summary of the Vietnamese American history, immigration patterns, and family structure is provided to instruct special educators about the culture and traditions of the families they may serve. In the second part, a summary of the responses of Vietnamese Americans is shared so professionals may learn the attitudes of one population they may serve. A group of Vietnamese Americans were willing to communicate with people outside their community by providing personal opinions. Such information is invaluable for practitioners in education and health care because of the scarcity of data pertaining to Vietnamese Americans.

There are several practical uses for such information. First, teachers might review this article to familiarize themselves with Vietnamese American history. …