Speech Language Therapy Awareness Week 2021

Last week was Speech Language Therapy Awareness Week 2021.  ABI has a large team of very skilled SLT’s working across the three different services ABI has across Aotearoa – Intensive, Community and Residential Disability Services. The SLT’s have a wide range of experience and skills and special interests in cognitive communication disorders, paediatrics, swallowing, voice, social skills, assistive technology, school based interventions, supporting those accessing the Justice System to name but a few.

ABI values all the SLT’s on the team, the knowledge, contributions, expertise and passion they all bring to ABI, to the rehab and leadership team, for their clients and whānau and the wider support team wrapped around the client.    

The theme of the week was Rangatiratanga – one of the core values of New Zealand Speech and Language Therapy Association (NZSTA) and also one of ABI’s values.  This is about the right of those accessing rehabilitation, ABI, SLT to be self-determining, leading their rehabilitation journey, being active in their decision making about their health and wellbeing.  

ABI is lucky to have Maegan VanSolkema on the team as Clinical Lead for Speech and Language Therapy.  Maegan is also NZSTAs Expert Adviser for Traumatic Brain Injury.  Here is Megan talking to NZSTA about her special interest in brain injury.

My interest in the field of traumatic brain injury and overall brain and behaviour started early during my undergraduate experience in the US. I was immediately hooked following a brain and behaviour lecture and from there was really interested in everything neuro. I double majored in psychology and speech and hearing science and loved the overlap between the two. I had a passion for learning and trying to figure out why we do the things we do paired with the desire to help others. I had multiple amazing mentors along my academic pathway that pulled me in different directions, mainly within the field of child psychology, voice, and aphasia. However, after having another very talented mentor and supervisor within a subacute skilled nursing facility in the US, this is when I was immediately hooked by the field and specialised area of acquired brain injury. The reason being I was able to utilise my entire toolbox of clinical knowledge in one population, with the added thrill and challenge of trying to investigate and figure out what was going on based on individual’s ever-changing presentations and CT scans.

I moved to New Zealand 15 years ago and have been working within the area of acquired brain injury at ABI Rehabilitation in Auckland for that entire time. Within this company I have been able to work across intensive rehabilitation, residential rehabilitation, and community rehabilitation. During my time at ABI Rehabilitation, I have participated and led multiple quality projects that have changed the practice of acquired brain injury rehabilitation in New Zealand; specifically, a part of the team that created the Emerging from Consciousness Programme (ECP) that were initially not a population who received intensive rehabilitation until 2014. Another project completed was a treatment programme for individuals in a phase of Post Traumatic Amnesia (PTA), a stage of recovery historically not seen to respond to cognitive treatment, especially from speech language therapists. I was also involved in a goal awareness and engagement using iPad technology research project with AUT. I was also a part of a working group focusing on the provision of rehabilitation for clients with hypoxic brain injury, and how this compares to neurorehabilitation of traumatic brain injury. These projects are a few examples of how I continually strive to participate in clinical research whilst providing speech language therapy to a full clinical caseload and demonstrates my passion to ensure the NZ population is receiving the best level of services based on practice evidence.

I also really enjoy supporting other clinicians in New Zealand. In 2014 a National Acquired Brain Injury (ABI) SLT special interest group disorders were created to support this area of practice. This group attempts to cover the lifespan of acquired brain injury and reviews topics that are important to clinicians throughout New Zealand through guest speakers and literature reviews and is run by a group of amazing SLT’s from across the country. In addition to facilitating professional development for SLT’s I also provide supervision to both professionals and students from New Zealand universities, as well as students pursuing their master’s degree in the United States (ASHA certified).

Because I get bored very easily and am passionate about neurorehabilitation and specifically cognitive communication disorders, I am currently completing my PhD part-time with the University of Auckland. My topic is “The role and relationship of attentional processes governing communicative functioning following moderate/severe TBI in adults”. This is an area of research within cognitive communication disorders that has excellent clinical knowledge but limited empirical evidence. I published my systematic review last year (https://doi.org/10.1007/s11065-020-09445-5), and have another article that is under review, and currently working on writing a few more manuscripts as part of this PhD. Cognitive communication disorders are my absolute passion and I am also a guest lecturer at the University of Auckland on this topic. I am hoping through this doctoral project, running the ABI SLT SIG, and guest lecturing I am able to build awareness and raise the profile of cognitive communication disorders within our profession.