By David Chilton
Special to the Toronto Sun
It's no small irony that we live in the most communications conscious era ever, yet substantial and increasing numbers of children and men and women of all ages struggle to speak or hear or communicate using symbols.
Dean of health and human studies at Durham College.
Speech language pathologists and audiologists provide invaluable help and professional expertise, but their time -- and the funding to pay them -- is limited. Fortunately, a new position on the health care spectrum has emerged, that of communicative disorders assistant.
Working under the direction of speech language pathologists and audiologists, CDAs work one on one or with groups of individuals with special communications needs such as autistic children, brain trauma victims, stroke patients and those afflicted with dementia.
Two courses in Ontario
Judy Robinson, dean of health and human studies at Durham College, says the CDA certificate program is in just its third year, and is one of only two courses in the province. The other is offered at Georgian College in Barrie.
For the first two years, Durham's CDA program accepted 25 students, Robinson says -- 24 women and one man each year. This September, Durham will take 30 students for the 11-month, full-time program, although the extra places won't mean easier applicant acceptance.
"We're really oversubscribed," Robinson says. "We have been each year."
Would-be CDAs need at least a two-year diploma in social studies or similar to get into the Durham program, and a good number of those who apply have degrees in psychology or linguistics.
One of those graduates is Kelly Norton, who has a degree in linguistics from the University of Victoria. She moved back to Whitby from the B.C. capital in 2001 and worked at a series of desultory jobs before volunteering with speech impaired children in preparation for the CDA program at Durham.
"It was a very happy day. It was a time for hooting and hollering," Norton says about her acceptance, explaining that ever since high school she has been interested in language and speech and finds communication easy.
Norton, and fellow student Anita Teeninga, had to study the anatomy of speech and language, fluency and voice, language acquisition in children and neurogenic disorders -- stroke, dementia -- in adults.
Another subject was computer based, learning the Boardmaker program used by those who can't speak and have to communicate with symbols. Students must also complete two work placements, both six to seven weeks long, towards the end of their course. Tuition is about $2,300.
Norton and Teeninga want to work with children. Norton because she's most comfortable around them -- she taught swimming for 10 years -- and Teeninga, a former teacher with a degree in education from Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich., because of personal and religious interests.
Norton already has a job lined up with the school board in Windsor, but Teeninga laments, "I'm stuck in the funding crisis" and hasn't had much luck in Hamilton-Dundas where she wants to work.
Still, she remains unworried and thinks she could volunteer in the Christian private school system until paid employment comes along.
When it does, she and the rest of this year's graduating class can expect wages that begin in the $18 to $23 an hour range, pay that Robinson calls a good start. And, she says, CDAs can supplement their income by working independently under the direction of speech language pathologists and audiologists.
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