Learning from other disciplines is invaluable

Beginning in January, Alyssa McGurrin, a speech pathology graduate student at Penn State University, joined HMS for a 15-week internship program with our Speech-Language Department. During Alyssa’s time with us, she gained experience in planning individual sessions, learned how to provide therapeutic feeding, led group language sessions, and more. In fact, Alyssa also presented her master’s-level research to our Speech-Language Department. We are thankful for her time, her commitment to our HMS students, for her patience in learning about each of our student’s individual needs.

Read on to learn more about Alyssa, her experience at HMS, and how she hopes to use her newfound knowledge in the future.

Tell us more about yourself!
Hello! My name is Alyssa and I am a speech pathology graduate student at Penn State. I completed my undergraduate degree in speech pathology at Penn State as well with a minor in Human Development and Family Studies.

I first heard about HMS when one of my clinical supervisors, Maggie Lamb, guest lectured about cortical visual impairment (CVI) and augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) in one of my graduate classes about a year ago. After learning about the creativity, uniqueness, and passion that goes into speech therapy sessions at HMS, I knew I would love to have the experience to internship at the school.

When you heard that you were to join the HMS School for this opportunity, what were you most looking forward to?
I was particularly looking forward to forming relationships with the students and learning from them. My past internships have been shorter than 15 weeks and I felt that as soon as I had built a strong relationship with a student, it was time for me to leave! At HMS, I was thankful to get to know each student I worked with over the few months I was there.

What was your favorite part about this experience?
Daily, I had experiences that could be considered my “favorite parts.” One reflection that sticks out to me was being able to see students communicate across settings. In our individual speech sessions, we worked on skills such as greeting/goodbyes, asking partner-focused questions, commenting during conversations, or sharing information. In the speech room, the student got to practice these things with the clinician. However, seeing a student say hello to a classmate, tell jokes to a staff member, or ask about a peer’s upcoming weekend was so refreshing. I loved seeing the smiles on everyone’s faces during interactions like these.

What is the most rewarding lesson learned that you’ll take with you?

The most rewarding lesson I have learned during my time at HMS was the importance of teaching students to be self-advocates. Some of the students I worked with had specific IEP goals related to self-advocacy and/or talked about the topic in class. Others learned about it informally through their day-to-day experiences. In collaboration with the amazing HMS classroom teachers, my supervisors and I would help by programming self-advocacy messages on a student’s device. I learned so much by asking students what kinds of things they needed to be able to say quickly and daily questions such as: “Can you please fix my glasses?” or “Can you help me drive my power chair?”

Some self-advocacy topics we talked about with students took me out of my comfort zone. For example, a few students wanted a message to say something such as, “I understand everything you are saying, but it might take me longer to reply.” From what I observed, students were proud of themselves when they used these messages with staff or peers around the building. While we can be great advocates for students, it is equally as important to empower them to be advocates for themselves!

How do you envision yourself utilizing this newfound knowledge in your professional career endeavors or future studies?

I am so excited to share my newfound knowledge with others in my future career. I am lucky to have learned from SLPs, OTs, PTs, educators, PCAs, nurses, social workers, recreational therapists, and more at HMS. Having worked with such an amazing team, I see myself using a collaborative approach with any services I provide and not being afraid to ask questions about other disciplines.

Why do you feel that it is valuable for more people to have experience working with students and young adults with disabilities?
I think that interacting with people with disabilities of any kind can bring about feelings of nervousness for people who have not had this experience. I remember seeing people with disabilities in the community when I was younger and wanting to talk to them, but not knowing the “right way.” After experiences throughout high school and college, I learned that there isn’t always a “right way,” but that it is more about having the exposure. It would be valuable if more people had similar opportunities to help dismiss any uneasiness. I have told my family and friends many times, “I wish you could meet the students at HMS!”

What advice would you give to someone who is interested in joining HMS for an internship experience?
Interning at HMS was the most valuable experience I had during my time in graduate school. My advice would be to take advantage of all opportunities and to learn from other disciplines than just the field you are in. For example, join outdoor power mobility group, attend PT in-services, join dance-movement and music therapy, and observe in any classroom you can. These experiences help you to learn different ways to interact with students and more about their interests. Overall, come in every day with an open mind and know that you will make memories you will never forget!

Thank you, Alyssa! We wish you the best in your future endeavors.

For more information about our Speech-Language Department, click here.