WORTHINGTON — The speech therapy team at Sanford Worthington Medical Center keeps busy meeting a variety of needs of people of all ages and backgrounds.

Just ask Billi Swanson, a speech therapist who has been working out of Sheldon, Iowa for 18 years. She travels to Worthington and other regional Sanford communities to serve patients, and teams in Worthington with fellow speech therapist Kayla White.

“I knew that I had the opportunity to work with both children and adults,” Swanson said of her decision to pursue her chosen career. “I also liked that idea that there were a lot of options in terms of facilities that I could work in and be able to help.

“I originally thought I was going to go into occupational therapy,” added Swanson, who earned her undergraduate degree at Northern State University in Aberdeen, S.D., and her graduate degree at the University of South Dakota. “My advisor asked me if I knew anything about speech therapy and said, ‘why don’t you take an intro class?’ I did, and later got a little bit of a scholarship to go into speech therapy.”

As Swanson continued her studies, she quickly learned that speech therapy encompassed far more than she had originally thought.

“A lot of people think speech therapy is just for kids who have articulation disorders and get their sounds wrong,” she said. “We work with all ages, really — from toddlers to adults — and we evaluate and treat a lot of different disorders.”

Among those served by speech therapists are individuals with articulation delays, fluency/stuttering, dysarthria (caused by muscle weakness, aphasia (damage to the brain’s language capabilities), cognitive deficits (such as memory, problem solving, attention and orientation), apraxia (difficulty with motor planning to perform tasks or movements when asked), phonological disorders and Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Swanson’s specialties include swallowing disorders, which can be treated in a number of ways.

“Swallowing disorders is a big one that a lot of people don't know that I work with,” she explained. “A lot of times those will come after a brain injury or stroke, and with Alzheimer’s as well. Some will almost forget to stop chewing and swallow. ... We can do bedside checks, feed them different foods and see how they're swallowing, and see if they have any signs of aspirations or motor difficulties as well.

“We can do a video swallow study,” Swanson continued.. “We do that with a radiologist and mix different foods, different textures with barium so we can how the food is going down — whether it’s into their lungs or their esophagus. We can see if they’re aspirating and then perhaps change their diet, or do whatever else we can so they can keep eating orally.”

When it comes to working with patients with aphasia, Swanson there are multiple approaches she can take.

“There are many different kinds of aphasia, but our goal is to try to help them come up with their words a little easier,” she said. “We can also do augmentative communication — that would be with picture books or communication devices — and you can also do something as simple as a yes or no picture board. Or, you can have some people than type out what they want, or some write out what they want — some even use blinking. We just try to find the best way they can communicate.”

In cases involving children, Swanson said initial evaluations serve to determine what their exact needs may be.

“If they’re just not talking or don’t have many words, we’ll try to increase their vocabulary,” she said, “Some kids may develop a little bit slower and sometimes they just need a kick start; sometimes the parents need a few things at home to help with their development.”

Swanson also offers speech therapy as part of the LSVT LOUD program, which serves patients with Parkinson’s Disease.

“It’s kind of an intense program that’s supposed to go four days a week for an hour a session for one month,” she described. “It helps them (patients) to focus on having a good intensity in their voice. A lot of times they speak very quietly, even though they think they’re speaking loudly. We help them have the breath support they need to get their words out.”

Speech therapists can work in places such as hospitals, rehabilitation facilities, schools and nursing homes. Swanson sees inpatients and outpatients; she also works with adults with disabilities at The Village Northwest in Sheldon.

Patients must have a doctor’s order to receive speech therapy. For more information, visit https://www.sanfordhealth.org/medical-services/rehabilitation-and-therapy/speech-therapy.