May is Speech and Hearing Month, and local speech and language pathologists and audiologists from the Child Development Centre (CDC), Interior Health and School District #27 invite the public to find out more about the range of speech and hearing services available in the Cariboo.
To celebrate Speech and Hearing Month, this dedicated group of professionals has put together beautiful and unique gift baskets for the community, filled with items generously donated by local businesses.
There are specialized gift baskets for babies born at Cariboo Memorial Hospital during the month of May.
There are also two large summer-themed gift baskets for families available through a free raffle, with draw boxes at places like Interior Health, CDC and the public library.
Local speech, language and hearing professionals include Julia Hodder, speech and language pathologist at CDC; Charlotte Lundee and Heather Awmack, speech and language pathologists at School District #27; Katie Young, audiologist with Interior Health; Alys Wardlaw, speech and language pathologist with Interior Health and Holly Rutherford, speech and language pathology student from UBC in Williams Lake for a five-week practicum.
Young explained that Speech and Hearing month highlights important issues for parents, families and communities.
“Communication is highly personal for all ages from babies to seniors, and that you can have issues where you need support,” she said.
“People need to know where they can access that support.”
“Those skills are important in all kinds of development and in all aspects of life. So many people are affected by communication disorders, and identifying them is the first step in addressing them,” she said.
“A lot of times people associate speech with intelligence and personality.”
Wardlaw added that public awareness and understanding is very important when it comes to communication barriers.
“Without public understanding a person can feel very isolated,” she explained. “Without awareness and understanding they don’t just feel it: they are isolated.”
Young added that people can’t see hearing loss and they often don’t understand it.
“People with hearing loss have to listen harder and it’s a struggle, even with hearing aids.
“Two people can have the same level of hearing loss, but it will impact them very differently,” she said.
“Even a mild hearing loss isn’t mild in their lives.”
A child between birth and 19 years of age can get free support for speech, language and hearing.
Awmak said that early intervention is very important, and the younger the child is the bigger gain you usually see and the smoother the transition to school.
She added all Kindergarten students in the district are screened for speech and language and that pathologists work with the kids with the highest needs.
“Preschool screening is so important because the earlier the needs are identified, the sooner services can be put in place,” she said.
The group explained that if you have concerns about your preschool child’s speech and language development, you can talk to the local Speech and Language Pathologist at Interior Health or at the Child Development Centre, and that if you have concerns about your child’s hearing, you can speak to your local audiologist at Interior Health.
Anybody can refer, and you do not need to see your doctor first. If your child is attending school and you have concerns about your child’s communication skills, you are encouraged to speak to your child’s teacher.
Wardlaw said that when it comes to speech and language the family role is crucial.
“Talk and sing and play with children from birth,” she suggested.
“You and your baby use language, hearing and motor skills while creating a wonderful bond between you.”
“There is shortage of services for adults and families in our community,” Lundee said.
“The need is great. Autism is on the rise and takes up a lot of our case loads and we are short-handed,” she said.
There is currently a vacancy for a speech pathologist at the school district, she adds.
“Our community is unique and the areas we serve are huge,” said Young. “It’s the size of New Brunswick. We cover the Chilcotin to Alexandria and Big Lake to 100 Mile House.”
One aspect of speech that these pathologists work with is articulation — forming sounds. Problems with articulation can be a result of permanent hearing loss, or fluctuating hearing loss that comes because of something like an ear infection.
Other conditions that affect articulation are a cleft palate or lip, difficulty with muscle development — things that can be tied with language development.
The cases they work with can range from something like a minor lisp or a stutter to a child unable to speak without a computer.
“Language is a simple system of how we communicate,” Wardlaw said.
“Without it we can’t communicate. It is carried in your brain and is connected to your thoughts,” she explained.
“Language can be separate from speech: it can be sign language, written language or body language.”
Interior Health and Child Development Centre speech and language pathologists see clients in their homes, at preschools and daycare centres, in the community and in their individual clinics.
School district pathologists see kids in their schools, and the Interior Health audiologist sees clients at the health unit and does an early hearing program for newborns at Cariboo Memorial Hospital.
They said that their work is very rewarding — watching kids progress over time, and empowering families to help their own child.
“It’s very satisfying to see a child become verbal and able to connect with another person,” Hodder said, “and to watch the isolation come to an end.”
“I had one mom phone me two years after we worked with her child to say thank you,” Wardlaw said.
Young added that it’s always amazing to see the incredible diversity in the kids she sees.
“Communication is fun,” Lundee stated.
“You come out of a session with a child feeling energized. Sometimes kids say things that are so funny and it makes your day.
“‘Aha’ moments are precious and they do happen.”
For more information about speech, language and hearing services offered in the Williams Lake area, phone the CDC at 250-392-4481, Public Health at 250-302-5030 or SD#27 at 250-398-3855.