Session Abstract: Our symposium demonstrates the importance of language when assessing bilingual latinx youth’s social-emotional functioning. We discuss two clinical cases of youth of differing ages and clinical presentations. In one case, a first generation immigrant youth demonstrates how she uses language to adapt to a new country by adopted English as her preferred language. She also uses language to distance herself from past traumas that are held in Spanish, and by doing so, is able to create a new narrative for herself. The second presentation demonstrates the power of the therapeutic collaborative assessment model in helping a client use language to strengthen communication of her emotional experience to her mother, regulate her body, and feel understood. This symposium, discussed by Dr. Emmanuel Zamora, will be an opportunity to emphasize the many complex and nuanced facets of language to consider when conducting assessments with bilingual children and families.

Chair Information: Catherine Anicama, PhD | WestCoast Children's Clinic

Discussant Information: Emmanuel Zamora, PsyD | University of California- Davis

Presentation 1 Title: Assessing the Functions of Language: Language as a Tool to Create New Connections and to Distance from the Past

Presentation 1 Abstract: With approximately 17 percent of youth ages 5 -17 speaking a language other than English at home, there is a need to conduct bilingual assessments. Identifying language proficiencies in each language helps us identify which language to assess in, which measures to use, and whether language will impact our interpretation of findings (e.g., does youth have a learning disorder or lack English proficiency?). Language also provides critical information about youths’ identity and social-emotional functioning. Reflecting on the case of a 17 year old Central American youth, this presentation highlights the importance of understanding the function of language. Among immigrant youth in particular, language is critical to connecting with a new community. For this youth, who was not exposed to English until she immigrated at the age of 11, English was her preferred language. However, testing suggested that her Spanish language abilities were more developed. This youth seemed unaware and, surprised even, to consider how language may be impacting her learning. In addition, this youth experienced multiple traumas throughout her childhood in Central America, on her journey to the United States, and since her arrival to the US. However, she was adamant about not reminiscing about the past and only focusing on the future. This suggested that the youth’s preference for English also allowed her to distance herself from her past experiences, which were encoded and held in Spanish. This emotional distance was necessary for her to remain regulated and have the resources available to focus on school. This presentation stresses the importance of moving beyond language proficiency and assessing how bilingual youth use language as a way to regulate their emotions, make new social connections, and create new narratives.


Catherine Anicama, PhD | WestCoast Children's Clinic

Presentation 2 Title: Regulating with Language: Using Bilingual Therapeutic Collaborative Assessment to Support a Parent-child Relationship

Presentation 2 Abstract: This presentation focuses on the power of the Therapeutic Collaborative Assessment (TCA) model and the impact of emotional language in the assessment of a 14-year-old Latinx youth struggling with mood related attenuated psychotic symptoms, depression, and symptoms of trauma. The presenter will explore the ways in which this youth used her bilingualism to regulate and organize her thoughts/feelings throughout testing. Her use of English and Spanish at different moments of the testing process played a distinct and important role in her understanding of her own mental health and her resulting communication with her mother. The TCA model used throughout testing allowed for mid-assessment repair of the child-parent relationship. This repair and increased attunement from the youth’s mother led to a decrease in the client’s stress level as well as a significant decrease in her overall symptom level. The progress of this youth and her family, highlights the power of placing a client’s experience and needs at the center of an assessment, the nuanced impact of language, and the possibilities for individual and family intervention during an assessment.


Vanessa Shafa, PhD | WestCoast Children's Clinic

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