Language pathologist discusses ‘Northwords’ program

Last Thursday afternoon during the weekly Wheels to Meals program at the Emo Legion, language pathologist Lonna Oster explained what her position is here once a week at Knox United Church and what “Northwords” is all about.
“The program is funded through the Ministry of Health to service children in the Rainy River District who are six years and younger with speech and language problems,” Oster said.
The dollars were put into place to assist in bringing more services to areas that were identified as underserviced. Although Oster works out of the Fort Frances office, she spends one day at Rainy River and another at Emo.
Oster stressed while the program, which has been in place for six years, is housed with the Northwestern Health Unit, they are not funded by the health unit.
“What do I do is work with children under six who have speech, language, hearing, voice, and stuttering difficulties,” she told those on hand. “SLPs, in general, work with people the whole life span, however, I work solely with children.
The children Oster sees have such difficulties as producing certain speech sounds, hearing, stuttering, swallowing, and understanding language or producing language.
Others are delayed in talking, or have autism, other developmental disorders, or cleft palate.
“We usually see children once a week for one-half hour to one hour depending on their difficulties,” noted Oster, adding treatment works on the areas of need.
Parents are active participants, and are involved in therapy as they need to follow through at home.
“We also work with adults in a hospital setting, seeing people who have had a stroke, Parkinson’s disease, brain injury, multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, Alzheimer’s, and many other neurogenic disorders,” said Oster.
These individuals may have lost their speech, or may have difficulty understanding or producing speech.
“We work to restore function to its previous levels,” she remarked. “If it cannot be restored, we look at ways to compensate—alternative ways of communicating like with pictures or sign language.
“We also work with adults who have swallowing disorders. A swallowing disorder may be caused by many types of diseases or disorders.”
Typically, the signs of swallowing disorder include coughing right after eating or drinking, a wet-sounding voice after eating or drinking, extra effort when chewing or swallowing, food getting stuck in the mouth or leaking from the mouth, recurring pneumonia or chest congestion, and weight loss or dehydration from not being able to eat.
“We help these individuals by being able to change their diets or give suggestions in ways to improve their swallowing function,” said Oster.
Why does she do this job?
“I feel that communication is one of the most important things in an individual’s life,” Oster noted. “Communication is essential for learning, working, and enjoying family and relationships.”
There are many ways to express language—speaking, writing, using sign language, and using computerized communication devices.