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

Just Posted

Victoria Foundation thrilled to see sun shine on B.C.’s philanthropists, builders

Province declares September ‘Community Foundations Month’

100 art pieces donated for fundraiser supporting refugee family new to Victoria

Saanich fundraiser will see every participant go home with a new piece of art

Saanich Fire celebrates 100th anniversary with party

Simulations, prizes, cake and more at No. 1 hall

UVic president offers condolences after two students killed in bus crash

‘We also grieve with those closest to these members of our campus community,’ Cassels says

GoodLife marathon helps enrich lives, share stories

Seniors’ care one of many causes supported by GoodLife Fitness Victoria Marathon

VIDEO: Greater Victoria, here’s the news you missed this weekend

Tragic bus crash, Pacific FC win and Terry Fox runs

VIDEO: Vancouver Island mayor details emergency response after fatal bus crash

Sharie Minions says she is ‘appalled’ by condition of road where bus crashed

Federal party leaders address gun violence after weekend shooting near Toronto

One teen was killed and five people injured in the shooting

Scheer makes quick campaign stop in Comox

Conservative leader highlights tax promises early in campaign

Conservatives promise tax cut that they say will address Liberal increases

Scheer says the cut would apply to the lowest income bracket

B.C. VIEWS: Cutting wood waste produces some bleeding

Value-added industry slowly grows as big sawmills close

Fewer trees, higher costs blamed for devastating downturn in B.C. forestry

Some say the high cost of logs is the major cause of the industry’s decline in B.C.

Federal food safety watchdog says batch of baby formula recalled

The agency says it’s conducting a food safety investigation

Coming Home: B.C. fire chief and disaster dog return from hurricane-ravaged Bahamas

The pair spent roughly one week on Great Abaco Island assisting in relief efforts

Most Read