Interview With Dr. Matthew Gillispie of the University of Kansas

Dr. Matthew Gillispie is a Clinical Associate Professor and speech-language pathologist in the Department of Speech-Language-Hearing: Sciences & Disorders and the Intercampus Program in Communicative Disorders at the University of Kansas. He is interested in preschool and school-age children with speech, language, and literacy disorders. He provides services and clinical education while facilitating the Language Literacy and Learning (LLL) team in the Schiefelbusch Speech-Language-Hearing Clinic.  Dr. Gillispie is also interested in culturally-responsive services, especially to children and families from Native American communities. He works with Little Nations Academic Center at Haskell Indian Nations University and Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation to promote language and early literacy. Dr. Gillispie is also an affiliate faculty member of KU’s Indigenous Studies Program.

Note: You should consult with your doctor or speech pathologist for recommendations on treatment. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of Dr. Gillispie and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of

How did you become interested in culturally responsive services in speech and language pathology?

Since my undergraduate and graduate programs, I have been involved with working with Native American communities. I am a citizen of the Muscogee Creek Nation; however, I wasn’t raised in the Muscogee Creek language and culture. As I advanced in school, I became more aware of how speech-language pathology could contribute to the education and healthcare needs in Native communities. During my Master’s degree program at the University of Arizona, I had the opportunity to work at the San Xavier Mission School and Indian Health Services on the Tohono O’odham Reservation, near Tucson, Arizona. When I returned to the University of Kansas for my doctoral program, I mentored Native American undergraduate and graduate students in aa training program within our department. I also began language and literacy playgroups at a preschool on the campus of Haskell Indian Nations University. All of the staff, children, and families at the preschool are Native American. I have been overseeing these playgroups for the past 14 years. Six years ago, I wrote a personnel preparation grant with the U.S. Office of Special Education Programs that focused on recruiting and training speech-language pathology graduate students who were Native American or interested in working with Native American communities. Throughout all these experiences, I learned more about cultural competence and culturally responsive services. I have learned a lot from courses, colleagues, self-study, and observations, but I’ve learned the most from my Native American friends, students, and clients/patients/families.  

What are some of the largest barriers to ensuring that patients receive culturally responsive service?

The service provider (e.g., speech-language pathologist, audiologist) is often the largest barrier, especially one that has not acknowledged or identified how their cultural and linguistic backgrounds and experiences may be significantly different than their clients/patients. As providers, we must continually be engaged in exploring our own identity, and how our beliefs and perspectives have been shaped by our parents, families, friends, and experiences. In that process, we must then increase our awareness of how our perspectives are different than others, especially each one of our clients.  

Additionally, service providers are required to include our clients’ experiences and perspectives into assessment and diagnostic decisions, as well as any recommendations we provide. For example, I still hear stories of bilingual children being evaluated only in English, and clinicians not considering the difference between monolingual and bilingual language development, and clinicians using culturally irrelevant or inappropriate materials.  Culture and language are human experiences, and yet we are also the largest barrier to understanding how our own experiences impact the interactions we have with others.

What are the potential impacts of receiving care that is not culturally responsive?

If you provide services that are not culturally responsive, then you could be violating discrimination laws and/or rules of ethics. In addition, your services will be less effective and valued less by your patients/clients. I hear service providers describe their clients/patients as unmotivated, non-compliant, or any descriptor that puts fault on the client/patient. Instead, I encourage service providers to look inward and consider that they may not have responded to their clients/patients needs, and this may include not responding to their cultural and linguistic needs.   

How can we better prepare professionals to be culturally responsive?

This may be the most difficult skill we learn and develop as clinicians. As I stated earlier, professionals need to reflect on their own identity and beliefs, including the source of one’s beliefs. Next, I recommend a client/family-centered approach to clinical services. If we are truly implementing a client/family-centered approach, then we will naturally consider the family’s linguistic and cultural experiences. In this approach, we must be conscious of our own biases in our recommendations because what we might recommend for ourselves may be very different than what is best for the client/patient. This process of introspection and centering the client are also components of what some service providers and scholars refer to as cultural humility.   

Are there certain considerations that are specific to speech pathology but not necessarily other health related fields?

Cultural responsiveness and humility are theoretical approaches applied in many disciplines (e.g., education, social work, psychology, healthcare, etc.) but there are discipline-specific competencies and/or best practices. I recommend starting with two resources that are most relevant to speech-language pathologists and audiologists:

  1. American Speech-Language-Hearing Association’s Practice Portal on Cultural Competence
  2. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ National Standards for Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services

What aspect of your work are you most proud of?

Over the past 6 years, I have directed a grant, Culturally Responsive Early Literacy Instruction: American Indian/Alaska Native (CRELI), that recruited, educated, and supported 19 graduate scholars in speech-language pathology. These scholars, most who are affiliated with a tribal community, not only succeeded or are succeeding in an intense, challenging graduate program but also engaged in outreach and language and literacy support to two local preschool programs who educate Native American children. Of those scholars who have already graduated, most are serving children from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. Three have continued their education in PhD programs while a couple of scholars are interested in doctoral programs. All 19 will be leaders and advocate for culturally responsive services in their respective environments.

What is your advice for graduate speech-language pathology students?

Graduate students should seek information and experiences with people and cultures that are significantly different than their own life experiences. And when the temptation to judge emerges, because it will, they should actively reflect on the source of their judgement and the potential impact of their judgment. The more one engages in this practice in all aspects of their life, the more likely they will apply this same process in their professional judgements and decision-making.

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