Story by Andrea Martin
Every parent wants the best for their child, but sometimes a child needs a little help to reach their full potential.
That’s where the North Zone Pediatric Allied Health Team comes in. Made up of occupational therapist, speech language pathologists, physiotherapists and a therapy assistant, the team uses a multi-disciplinary approach to meet the needs of their patients.
“It’s all about helping families focus on what’s possible, says Karen Scott, speech language pathologist. “We look at the child’s strengths and abilities, remembering that their physical or developmental disorder isn’t who they are – it’s just another part of them.”
Scott has spent more than 35 years working with toddlers with speech delays and difficulties, including late talkers who use grunts and gestures to communicate.
“We work with infants and toddlers up to four years old, using play to encourage and motivate children to build confidence and learn how to move, speak and cope with their emotions,” says Scott, who works with the team out of Grande Prairie. “Early intervention is key to setting these kids up for success later in life.”
While many of the team’s patients are referred at birth due to physical or developmental delays, they also see children with club feet, plagiocephaly (flat head syndrome) or feeding concerns.
“For many parents, learning that your child has a genetic disorder or is on the autism spectrum is very scary,” says Area Manager Leana DeJager. “Our role is to see what is challenging for the child and work with the family on different strategies they can do at home – whether it’s incorporating touch or movement into play, creating a structured routine or using games to practice word sounds.”
According to occupational therapist Shannon Armstrong, the team’s role also extends beyond traditional therapy by helping families access community agencies and supports.
“One of my moms needed to lift her child, who is in a wheelchair, up-and-down a set of exterior stairs whenever they left the home,” says Armstrong. “As the child grew, this was becoming physically impossible for the mother, so I worked with the family and community agencies to help them get a porch lift and access funding to reinforce the concrete base of their house to support the weight of the lift.”
The team works together on joint assessments and streamlined patient treatment plans. This gives families the option of accessing care in their own community without having to make frequent visits to specialized clinics in Edmonton or Calgary. Another unique aspect to this team is that they schedule home visits with families in the Grande Prairie area as needed.
“We recognize many children make strange around new people and don’t show the same skills that they might at home,” says physiotherapist Michelle Boulet. “For instance, if we know a child can pull himself up on a coffee table or has a favourite toy, then we can use what’s already in the home to motivate him to stand and eventually learn to walk.”
Although the team focuses on helping the individual child, it’s also about listening to families and helping them reach their goals.
“They tell us what’s important to them and we give them the tools to put into practice in their own homes – whether it’s helping their child with potty training or self-feeding,” says Boulet.