Interview: Aquatic Therapist Susan B. Nachimson, MA, CCC-SLP, CMT - Part 1
I have had the absolute pleasure of speaking with and interviewing Susan B. Nachimson (pronounced /nakumson/). Susan has been practicing speech therapy for over 30 years in many different arenas and venues. Susan is trained in both NDT (Neuro-Developmental Treatment) and WATSU (Water Shiatsu). She is also a certified massage therapist and implements aquatic therapy with speech clients frequently in practice.
Susan's experiences both in the field of speech-language pathology and beyond, I'm sure, will delight and amaze you! Enjoy reading below as we embark upon Susan's professional journey from a young professional to a multi-dimensional therapist.
: Susan, tell us about your background and when you first started practicing as an SLP.
: I began practicing in this profession in August 1976 in public schools after having received an MA Degree in Speech Pathology at Humboldt State University, Arcata, California. I received a BA from Valley State College, now California State University, Northridge (CSUN), 1965. I spent those between years raising children and taking a graduate course here and there until I finally found myself in a great position to complete the teaching credential I began in the '60s and acquired an MA in the same year. My children were in elementary school by now and every time I volunteered as a parent I was enticed into screening students with speech and language issues who were not being served in the years before public law demanded identification, assessment and treatment for our students.Stephanie: How did you become interested in furthering your certifications and getting NDT trained, as well as becoming a certified massage therapist?
After years of working within the ASHA model and following recommendations and strategies picked up from specialized continuing education courses, state and national speech pathology conventions and multitudes of purchased textbooks and manuals, I was asked to work with a two-year-old child with cerebral palsy. Her mother asked, ‘Are you an NDT Therapist?' ‘No', I said. ‘Do you know what that is?' she asked. ‘No,'
I said again. ‘Are you interested in learning?' the mom then asked. ‘Sure,' I said.
That was the beginning of a shift in this profession for me that was very interesting, profound, and exciting.
After this, I was led to a colleague who taught NDT (Neurodevelopmental Treatment, aka Bobaths) strategies for speech pathologists and my hands-on education began. I had already enrolled in a massage therapy licensing course. I had a patient, post CVA, with oral apraxia of speech and severe limitations in breath support who appeared to benefit from a hands-on approach.
By this time I had taken some courses in Transpersonal Psychology that emphasized issues in the body that were affected by breath-holding incidents secondary to trauma. Stroke, CP, seizures were all conditions that resulted from trauma. It was simple to put the concepts together from a psychological approach to a functional speech pathology approach. I was aware that touch needed to be brought into my practice. As a certified massage therapist (CMT) I was licensed to practice hands-on chest compression to facilitate deeper and fuller breath control for my patients. So, now, I was enrolled in massage therapy and learning NDT simultaneously hoping I was heading in a positive direction!
Stephanie: Well, we know now that you definitely were! You have so many skills! So, now, tell us what led you to doing aquatic speech therapy?
Susan: In 1986, after my last child graduated from high school, I prepared to take an 8-week pediatric NDT course in order to enable me to work with young children with a variety of multiple disorders with feeding, speech and language needs. I was fortunate to have an opportunity to work at Easter Seals in San Francisco as a temporary replacement for a colleague on maternity leave. It was there that I saw many under 3-year-olds in both the clinic and home-care settings.
The child who led me into water was two-and-a-half years old. He crawled with a stiff body, had severe laryngeal blocking and was frequently very angry. It occurred to me that maybe we were not a good match after frequently being hit by him.
Finally, one day, I asked his mother, ‘How is this little guy in his bath? Does he enjoy the water?' It is so amazing when the perfectly correct moment occurs. His mom responded, "He LOVES his bath—he laughs and splashes all the time!"
I heard ‘laugh' and was inspired! I started to discuss working in water. The rest is history! This sweet boy locked into his body, traumatized by limited breath support and poor muscle development, became independent in water. His warm-up time on the ramp was seconds as he crawled into the water. Mom trusted me to do the right thing.
My personal experience was teaching all of my own children and nieces and nephews and friends' children to swim for fun. In addition, I learned in transpersonal psychology workshops about a prenatal journey in water that is a tool used to help people unlock deeply rooted traumas.
This little guy just went under and used all-fours to swim towards his mom, pulling his head straight out of the water and laughing a clear, open belly laugh with no traces of laryngeal blocking or limited inhalation! It was absolutely AWESOME to say the least.
I wasn't sure how to interpret the session per goals and objectives, but I knew we addressed increasing respiration for phonation! The most remarkable awareness was how independent and functional this child was in water in contrast to totally disabled on land. I knew there needed to be a transition from water to land. Unfortunately, there were no follow through sessions with this child, but many new sessions with other children were tried with new strategies being developed with each one and hence began my love for aquatic therapy!
Today, my favorite place to practice in my field is when providing diagnostic therapy in a warm water setting, preferably in a shallow swimming pool or spa that is at least 93F!
Thank you so much for reading the first half of my interview with the dynamic aquatic speech therapist, Susan B. Nachimson. Please join us Tuesday for the second half of our interview, when Susan will explain her recommendations for successful aquatic therapy as well as where you can find Susan now!