Kristan Nelson is a speech language pathologist at the Victoria Native Friendship Centre. She works with kids having trouble with speaking, and tries to incorporate aspects of their ancestral cultures. Here, she is seated with toys of local animals from the ‘Moe the Mouse’ collection, which she uses during her sessions. (Nicole Crescenzi/News Staff)

Language and culture: Aboriginal speech language pathologist helps Vancouver Island kids

Kristan Nelson was recently hired at the Victoria Native Friendship Centre

Kristan Nelson is surrounded by toys. Some of them are cute stuffed animals, but they’re also tools for kids to learn to speak. Think of the letter ‘M.’ It makes the “Mmm” sound, like “Moose.”

Nelson is an Aboriginal speech language pathologist who specializes in pediatric early intervention, and she works at the Victoria Native Friendship Centre (VNFC).

While her goals are the same as any other speech language pathologist –to develop a child’s ability to understand and convey a language– at the VNFC there are additional aspects to her job.

“Here it is adapted to be responsive to relationship building, which is a big piece of supporting Indigenous populations, where there have been negative experiences with social services or mainstream health services,” Nelson says.

ALSO READ: Victoria Native Friendship Centre receives nearly half a million for child development

Nelson is an Indigenous woman herself, Cree Metis on one side, and Scottish Norwegian on the other, and while she can’t speak local languages she understands the need to incorporate them in her therapy.

“I don’t think there’s a world where I could learn all the local languages , or even really do them justice, so it’s a lot of collaboration with my coworkers and community members,” she says. “It’s about taking these basic learning strategies and implementing them in whatever language the family speaks at home.”

For Nelson it has also means learning a lot of cultural traditions and taboos that aren’t usually considered.

“For some cultures here it’s not appropriate to look in mirrors, and that’s a lot of what I do, so it’s trying to navigate that,” she says. “I’m really lucky here where most of the staff are Indigenous, and they teach me.”

Since here arrival in June Nelson has gathered a full client load of 25 children six years old and younger, as well as 15 other children on a wait list.

ALSO READ: Youth carve out a bond with First Nations’ culture

The most common issue she sees is “severe expressive language delays,” where young kids, typically aged three or four years old, are still only speaking one or two word sentences when they should be using five or six word sentence in past, present and future tense.

While these kinds of delays are seen across cultures, Nelson points to a 2018 report by Speech-Language and Audiology Canada that found language delays to be “one of the most prevalent development challenges for First Nations Children.”

“But that’s another piece that we’re trying to be very careful about, is not throwing labels on these little ones,” she says. “We’re working on collaborating with families and how they view their child and respecting them.”

For Ron Rice, executive director of the VNFC, hiring Nelson was an endeavor that the centre wanted to take on after noticing a need in their Aboriginal Supported Child Development Program. A three-year grant from the Ministry of Child and Family Development allowed for the hiring of Nelson in June, and has since made a big impact on local families.

“It creates success in so many other areas. I’ve had a parent say ‘We’ve only had three visits but already the child, its’ not that they’re speaking more… but now more than mom and dad can understand them and the child is less frustrated, and happy,’” Rice says. “It’s these kinds of things that are going to ripple in other parts of their life.”


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

nicole.crescenzi@vicnews.com

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

New crop of hand-crafted heats popping up across Saanich

Community arts program promotes wellness, sends message of caring from people of all ages

South Island Transportation Strategy looks to reduce reliance on personal vehicles

EV charging stations, bike lockers, new park-and-ride stalls among solutions in Capital Region

Hospital foundation president praises generosity of Peninsula residents

Karen Morgan said support during COVID-19, financial and otherwise, has been touching

BC Transit finishes wave of replacements with natural gas buses in Victoria

Average fleet age drops a few years with new buses added in 2020

Oak Bay couple honoured for 35 years volunteering

Mayor awards distinguished Oak Leaf to Bert and Doris Dinsmore

QUIZ: Do you know what’s on TV?

Fall is normally the time when new television shows are released

Canadian ski resorts wrestle with pandemic-vs.-profit dilemma as COVID-19 persists

Few are actually restricting the total number of skiers they allow on the hill

A (virtual) walk around the world by 88-year-old B.C. man

George Doi says it’s simple: ‘I like walking’

End of CERB means uncertainty for some, new system for others

As of a week ago, the CERB had paid out $79.3 billion to 8.8 million people

Horgan, Wilkinson trade barbs over MSP premiums, health care at campaign stops

Horgan called a snap election for Oct. 24 earlier this week

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Vancouver Island Tour de Rock riders roll into Parksville Qualicum Beach

Saturday’s schedule includes Port Alberni, Ucluelet and Tofino, followed by Nanaimo on Sunday

Most Read