Intervention Visits, What Would You Do?

On Your Way to the Visit and the Interpreter Cancels…What Do You Do?

You are 5 minutes from the family’s home and your phone rings. The interpreter who usually meets you there is having car trouble so will miss the visit. You hang up and think “what do I do now?” You visit with Juni’s family every week with the interpreter and feel very comfortable with working with the family, but his mother’s native language is different from your own. Amelia speaks very little English but seems to understand some of what you say. During visits, you have been working with Amelia to help Juni learn to feed himself and sit independently. The visit today has been planned to occur at lunchtime when Amelia wanted help getting Juni to fingerfeed. Juni’s family does not have a phone but you do have the neighbor’s number. What do you do?

Working with families for whom English is not the primary language requires additional thought and planning for the early intervention team. Under IDEA, early intervention programs are required to establish procedural safeguards that ensure that information about early intervention procedures, including the IFSP and delivery of supports and services, are provided in the family’s native language, unless clearly not feasible to do so. Programs must make efforts to work with translators and interpreters so that families can be full and active participants in intervention. Including an interpreter during visits provides a wonderful communication bridge to facilitate this participation, but what do you do when the interpreter can’t be there?

If you were in the situation above, what would you do?

Would you call the neighbor and cancel the visit?

Would you keep the visit without the interpreter and try to communicate with Amelia as best as you can?

If you would keep the visit, what strategies would you use to support Amelia as she encourages Juni’s ability to feed himself at lunchtime?

Share your ideas and follow the comments!


If you would like more information about working with an interpreter, check out these resources:

Tips for Working with an Interpreter – ASHA

Tips for Working with an Interpreter – Language Line Services (provides over-the-phone interpretation for a fee)

10 Tips for Working with Interpreters

Visit the VA Early Intervention Professional Developmenet Center’s Cultural Competence page for resources too!


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4 Comments to “On Your Way to the Visit and the Interpreter Cancels…What Do You Do?”

  1. Ask the interpreter to call you right back, don’t answer & allow her call to go to voice mail. She can leave a message explaining the circumstances in the families’ language. Go to the families’ home & allow them to hear the message. Could the interpreter provide some translation via phone for this one time? Depends on what is happening during the visit, the type of relationship with the family.

    • These are great creative ideas, Lynne! I never would have thought about having the interpreter leave a message on the interventionist’s phone for the family. Thanks!

  2. I frequently use a program such as Bing Translator. I can write my comments and the parent can write his/hers. I also have an iTranslate app on my phone for words/phrases. Either of these approaches include many languages.

    Most of the kids are learning English in school. Sometimes older sibs can help a bit. I can speak some Spanish, but may not have adequate vocab, so I can ask for a word here and there, but it is not best practice.

    I insist on a translator for assessments, but I can do a therapy session with access to a comuper.

    • Using technology to assist with interpretation is another creative solution! Do you find that Bing Translator and iTranslate are pretty accurate? I once worked in a program where we tried an online translator for a letter and had a native speaker read it and it was so wrong it was funny. This was years ago so technology is undoubtedly better now!

      I agree with you about being careful about using siblings. Asking for a word now and then can be very helpful, but using a sibling for a lot of interpretation would probably put too much responsibility on him/her and could be uncomfortable for the parent who might not wish to share info through the child. I know that many places have trouble finding interpreters so maybe using some of the technology you mention could help. Thanks for sharing your ideas, Janet!

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