Magazine article National Association of School Psychologists. Communique

South Asian Families' Access to Special Education and Mental Health Services: Obstacles and Strategies

Magazine article National Association of School Psychologists. Communique

South Asian Families' Access to Special Education and Mental Health Services: Obstacles and Strategies

Article excerpt


Immigration trends in recent years reveal that the number of students from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds is continuing to rise. As the proportion of culturally and linguistically diverse students in the total school population expands, the need for culturally responsive school psychology services will be increasingly magnified (NASP 2009). According to a report from the 2010 United States Census Bureau, the Asian population grew faster than any other population in the United States from 2000 to 2010 and now accounts for 4.8% of the entire population. There has been a significant increase in the Asian immigrant population from the countries of Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka (Dash, 2008). South Asian families are quickly becoming one of the most rapidly growing populations in the United States, but there is a lack of research and knowledge regarding how to provide proper psychological services to students from this community. Given the scarcity of research specifically regarding specifically South Asians, a few of the articles cited in this paper include studies pertaining to all Asian Americans.

This article will highlight obstacles that the families of this population face when dealing with educational and mental health supports for their children. Strategies and recommendations that school psychologists can use to help familiarize parents with the special education process will also be highlighted.


Researchers have described many barriers that South Asian families and children face when accessing mental health services. For example, Raghavan and Waseem (2007) list these: (a) lack of knowledge and awareness of services - participants in the study report that they do not have information about particular services and are not aware of how to access them or whom to ask about the range of services; (b) language difficulties - family members unable to speak English face further problems in communicating their concerns and understanding consultation; and (c) lack of culturally sensitive services - a "color blind" approach ignores the cultural values and systems of the family. Levels of acculturation and assimilation also have a considerable impact on help-seeking behavior. Studies have found that higher levels of assimilation among Asian Americans predict more positive attitudes toward seeking psychological help (Shea & Yeh, 2008).

Immigrants generally assimilate some of the cultural values of the country of residence while at the same time retaining their cultural identity and many of their original cultural values (Vishwanathan, Shah, & Ahad, 1997). For example, Indian immigrants seem to adapt successfully to the U.S. environment; however, most have distinguished themselves from other immigrant groups by remaining close to their native culture (Dasgupta, 1996). Many Indian Americans develop dual identities as "9-to-5 Americans in the workplace and Indians at home" (Desai & Coelho, 1980).

In addition to these barriers to seeking mental health services and school services, there are certain deeply rooted notions regarding acceptance of psychological services and of disabilities in this culture. The stigma of having a mental illness is one of the most significant obstacles preventing South Asian Americans from seeking help (Rao, Feinglass, 8c Corrigan, 2007). For example, in a study by Lee et al., (2009), the authors conducted in-depth interviews with first- and second-generation Asian American young adults about their perceptions, needs, and barriers to accessing mental health services. An important aspect of the article was the researchers' understanding of the level of acculturation for these young adults and the daily pressures that they faced (Lee et al., 2009). The results of this study indicated that mental health is one of the most important health concerns forfirst-andsecond-generationAsian American young adults, yet these young adults are often not likely to seek professional help when it is needed (Lee et al. …

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