This Fall, NESCA debuted its new feeding, speech and language and direct sensory/motor occupational therapy services. Leading NESCA’s feeding and speech and language therapy is Abigael Gray, MS, CCC-SLP. In today’s blog, we sat down with Abbey to learn about her role as a Feeding Specialist; Speech-Language Pathologist.
What led you to your interest in speech and language and feeding, in particular?
I received an undergraduate degree in psychology from Syracuse University. After graduating, I worked in a preschool for children with autism and developmental delays. This is really what made me interested in speech and language pathology (SLP), since all of the children there were receiving speech-language therapy. While I was working there, I observed quite a bit and decided I wanted to learn and do more in this area. After five years of working there, I enrolled at Emerson College to earn my Master’s in Communications Sciences and Disorders. While there, I discovered that Emerson has a great program for feeding. Many schools don’t have a focus on swallowing and feeding in pediatrics, like Emerson does. I had a placement with one of my professors at her practice in Needham. I eventually took a position with this clinic and received great training in pediatric feeding therapy there during my clinical fellowship. This is where I became passionate about feeding therapy. I eventually moved into a multidisciplinary practice for two more years and then joined the team at NESCA.
Why were you attracted to NESCA?
I saw this as a great opportunity to bring speech-language pathology and feeding therapy to NESCA. I loved the multidisciplinary aspect to the practice and thought I could strengthen what NESCA already offers by adding feeding and SLP to it. I like how all of the various services are built into one practice right here. Many of the kids being seen at NESCA can also benefit from the therapies that I offer. Having those services available to parents and children right in the same location is a huge plus for them.
After meeting Ann Helmus, Ph.D., NESCA’s founder and director, I knew that it was the right cultural fit for me, being so collaborative. It also gave me the opportunity to continue to work with Julie Robinson, OT, who oversees this new clinical offering. It’s great to be able to continue with my working relationships with the occupational therapists who also joined when I did. The seamless communication between all of us in the clinical therapy practice makes for really well-rounded therapy for the children we treat as well as more convenient for their parents/caregivers.
What are the most exciting and the most challenging parts of your role?
The most exciting part of my new role at NESCA is being able to offer speech-language and feeding services in-house. Often the recommendations from neuropsychologists through their assessment is to have some SLP support, whether it’s having to do with reading, writing, social skills, expression or comprehension. Being able to offer that right in the same practice allows for continuity of care among clinicians on behalf of the child. It’s exciting for me because I can go back to the neuropsychologist or other clinician at NESCA who referred the client with any new observations or questions I may have. This makes the process much smoother for the parents and our clinicians. There’s just a lot less “red tape” to go through to be able to communicate and collaborate.
It’s also exciting to build this service offering from the ground up. I can take all of the experiences I have had and knowledge I’ve gained through my years in various positions and make our services our own at NESCA.
As far as challenges go, right now as we build out this new service, I am currently the only SLP on board. While that is the case for now, I have a great network of past colleagues and friends who are SLPs to bounce thoughts off of. Our plan is to have other SLPs join our team as we grow the practice.
What are your clinical interests?
Feeding is my big passion area. Within feeding, I am currently completing a lactation counseling training to become a certified lactation counselor. Babies can struggle with breast feeding, then can have even more difficulties transitioning from the breast to solid foods. I love working with infants and toddlers, and having this certification will round out my knowledge about feeding for this age range.
Within speech, I love working on articulation with kids who have speech sound disorders, phonological disorders and childhood apraxia of speech. Within language, I really enjoy working on social pragmatic communication with kids who are on the higher functioning side of the autism spectrum, or Asperger’s, or those who have social pragmatics difficulties.
I also really enjoy working on early literacy skills, sound letters, identification, rhyming and phonological awareness. When it comes to kids who may be in their older elementary school or early middle school years, I love to work on writing skills with them.
One characteristic among NESCA clinicians is that they are all lifelong learners. In what ways are you a lifelong learner?
I loved that having the curiosity to continue to learn is a draw here at NESCA! That’s really important to me. Right now, I’m currently working my way through three different courses:
- The lactation counseling certification that I mentioned previously
- A “Feed the Peds” course, which is a refresher course on feeding therapy with some new approaches in the areas of tethered oral tissues (i.e., tongue ties, lip ties) and how those impact feeding. The course covers how to assess and treat these issues. What’s interesting is that these new approaches are appropriate for people across the lifespan – not just for young children. There is also a module on treating those with medical complexities. Often times, medically complex patients have issues with feeding and/or are tube-fed, and can then go on to have challenges progressing through age-appropriate feeding skills or transitioning off of tube-feeding.
- The third area I am currently in training for is with orofacial myofunctional disorders, including tethered oral tissues and the impact on speech and feeding. This covers anything that structurally or functionally impairs speech, the airway or feeding. This is a growing area in our field, so it’s important to be current and well-informed on this topic.
How has Covid-19 impacted the way you treat patients and families?
Right now, we are delivering speech-language and feeding therapy via teletherapy. While it’s always great to work with a child and/or family in-person, the plus side of teletherapy is that we get to see the child in their natural home environment as well as how the child communicates with family members. Sometimes, when we see the child in this setting, we can detect and observe a feeding or speech-language issue as the family sees it on a regular basis. It’s also nice to be able to work with parents in their own setting. We can better understand their priorities for therapy since we are talking directly with them. It also allows the child to generalize the skills they would normally learn in the clinic setting right into their home. As therapists, we can see what a typical meal at home looks like, which is obviously a more natural setting than the clinic. We used to have to ask parents to send us videos of mealtimes. Now, it’s like we are at a meal with them over Zoom!
Covid-19 was the catalyst for us to offer teletherapy, which has helped parents who work and have to travel to get to therapy tremendously. They are now able to be more hands-on in the therapy sessions. Also, for some medically complex kids, it’s just hard to get out of the house and drive to therapy. And, parents don’t have to cancel appointments if a sibling is home sick or even quarantining. And, we can stay on track with therapy via telehealth even in inclement weather that makes it challenging to drive to the clinic.
Covid-19 has certainly had its drawbacks, but we’re seeing some of the upsides in teletherapy as well.
About the Author
Abigael Gray has over six years of experience in assessment and treatment of a variety of disorders, including dysphagia, childhood apraxia of speech, speech sound disorder, receptive and expressive language disorder, autism spectrum disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. She has a special interest and experience in working with children with feeding and swallowing disorders, including transitioning infants to solid foods, weaning from tube feeding, improving sensory tolerance, developing chewing skills, increasing variety and volume of nutritional intake and reducing avoidance behaviors during mealtimes.
If you are interested in learning more about NESCA’s speech-language therapy or feeding therapy, please complete our online intake form, or email NESCA’s Director of Clinical Services Julie Robinson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton, Massachusetts, Plainville, Massachusetts, and Londonderry, New Hampshire, serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email email@example.com or call 617-658-9800.