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

Oak Bay wins Vancouver Island basketball championship

Third-place NDSS will get to challenge second place Claremont for a berth in provincials

Hundreds of wax figures find new life in Saanich man’s home

Former director of Victoria’s Royal London Wax Museum still hopes to revive wax figure tourism

Peninsula Eagles will host Midget T2 provincial championships

Provincial championships will take place at Panorama Recreation March 15 to 19

UPDATED: Hit and run results in damaged fire hydrant, flooding on Richmond Road

Registered owner issued $360 ticket, responsible for repair costs

Saanich’s senior race car driver not slowing down

Bill Okell kicks off 2020 season at Buttonwillow Raceway Park in California on Feb. 21

HIGHLIGHTS: Day one and two at the 2020 BC Winter Games

Athletes had sunny – but cold – weather to work with in Fort St. John

Tyler Toffoli scores twice, Canucks crush Bruins 9-3

Stecher, Miller each add three points for Vancouver

Zamboni driver, 42, earns NHL win over Maple Leafs

Emergency goalie called into action for Carolina Hurricanes

Governor general says multiple solutions needed for ‘complicated’ overdose issue

Julie Payette met at a fire hall with firefighters and police officers as well as politicians and health experts

Landlord ordered to pay $11K after harassing B.C. mom to move days after giving birth

Germaine Valdez was pressured to move just a few days after giving birth by C-section to her child

Heart attacks strike B.C. husband and wife just over one year apart

Courtenay couple share personal stories to bring awareness to heart month

‘Nothing surprises us anymore:’ U.S. border officials find brain in package

U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents found the brain packed in a glass mason jar in a Canada Post shipment

B.C., Ottawa sign sweeping 30-year deal for northern caribou habitat

West Moberly, Saulteau co-manage new protection on two million acres

Loans or gifts? Judge rules woman must pay Victoria man back $7K

B.C. judge rules that woman must pay back more than $7,000 in advanced funds to man

Most Read