Meet a Katy Mama Who’s Got A Heart For Helping Kids
Shawna Nickerson says she’s always loved working with children. This led her to get her degree and become a Speech/Language Pathologist and she says having her own kids has only intensified her passion for helping others. Shawna’s had an extensive career in assessing, diagnosing and treating adults and children in various sectors of speech, hearing, feeding, and developmental delays. And in January of this year she decided to open up her own practice, Olive Branch Therapy Services.
As mom to 3 littles (ages 4, 3, and 2), Shawna says the therapist in her has evolved and she’s gained what she calls “mom perspective.” All 3 of her children have had speech therapy related needs- from tongue ties, to delayed speech, to articulation deficits, to feeding difficulties, as well as a fluency disorder. Her number one goal is to provide education and convenience to her patients and their families. Shawna has found that when parents are educated on tools and strategies to use at home, it can speed up progress and limit the duration of therapy. This is something every family wants!
As a clinician, she has 7 years of experience under her belt in a variety of settings including public schools, acute care hospital, inpatient rehab, home health, and private practice. Through her career, Shawna found that many parents are not aware of all the services available to them and that there’s help they can get, often through the school district they can get for free. That’s why educating parents to help them advocate for their child is an additional service she provides at Oliver Branch Therapy Services.
We are so excited to feature this brilliant, big-hearted mama today and give you all a valuable resource for your children right here in Katy. Her office is as warm and welcoming as she is and we are excited to watch the good she does in her own practice. We sat down with Shawna to talk more about her career, what made her decide to branch out and open her own practice, and of course all things MOM!
Where are you from originally and how long have you lived in Katy?
I’m from Atlanta, GA. We moved to Houston in 2010 so I could attend U of H for my masters. We moved to Katy a couple years later (lived 7 years in Katy).
You’re a mama! How many kiddos do you have and how old are they?
I have 3 kids
Levi “King” – 4.5 yrs
Stella- 4 yrs
Asher- 3 years
What’s your favorite thing about raising a family in the Katy area?
We love what the suburbs have to offer. The walking trails, pools, splash pads, great schools, awesome neighbors, and a community of people we get to walk through this phase of life with.
Greatest gift about about being a mom?
The relationship I have with my kids is the best gift. Each relationship is unique and special.
Least favorite mom job? (i.e. packing lunches, dishes, bath time, etc.)
Playing referee all the time. We had had 3 kids in exactly 2 years. They are so close in age! They play so well together… for about 5 minutes at a time.
One thing people would be surprised to know about you…
I was a Division 1 swimmer for Florida Atlantic University. I coached swimming for 14 years and taught 100s of kids how to swim.
Favorite local things to do in Katy/Richmond/Fulshear? (With kiddos or just for mom!)
Go to our neighborhood pool- we go 2-3x a week. My kids are fish.
Do you have a favorite family friendly restaurant in the area?
Alicia’s. They are typically good about seating us away from others so we don’t have as much pressure for our kids to behave perfectly.
We’re big on self-care for moms, as hard as it is to find the time, what’s something you do just for yourself?
I go to the YMCA a couple times a week to workout. I also go to a Women’s group that Kingsland Baptist has called Tapestry. It is for women who have fostered, adopted, or just want more information about the process. It is a healing night for me.
Funniest shortcut/routine for helping you through parenthood?
If someone has an accident, I just throw the underwear away in the trash. Scrubbing poop takes FOREVER and then I have to bleach my laundry sink when I’m done and all the germs in the washer… I CAN’T.
Best mom hack that makes your life easier?
We use paper plates… like a lot! Just throw them away and the dishes are done! Totally worth the money.
Tell us about your business, Olive Branch Therapy Services and all your offerings!
I started my practice January of 2018. I was ready to go on my own and had always dreamed of owning my own business. I currently offer speech therapy, advocate services (to help families navigate Special Education in the public school setting) and social skills groups. I am in network with Blue Cross Blue Shield and Medicaid.
You were a therapist somewhere else and decided to open your own business, what was the inspiration behind branching out on your own and how has the transition been?
Over the past year and a half, I had been struggling to find balance between family life and career happiness. My youngest was about to turn 2 years old and I knew I needed to go for it. I had a lot of anxiety about all the work it would take to get started, and I began to feel like I couldn’t do it. I think as moms, one our greatest fears is that we can’t have it all. We tell ourselves that we can’t have a successful career, a great marriage, and STILL have enough time with our kids. I’m finally getting over that fear and realizing that being my own boss allows me more flexibility than I’ve ever had before. The transition has been great so far. I have officially quit my other jobs and will just focus on Olive Branch full time now. That in itself feels like an accomplishment.
What are some of your proudest moments with your business or some of the best memories you’ve had helping a child and their family?
I feel the proudest when a parent tells me about the changes they are seeing at home. It’s one thing for a child to do the skill in a clinical setting, and it’s an even greater accomplishment when they can transfer that skill to other environments. I love teaching a child how to use their voice. Some children I work with have been non-verbal and to see them develop the skills (via signing, gestures, verbalizations) to communicate their thoughts is so exciting.
Have you always had a heart for helping kids?
I’ve always loved working with kids! I think having my own children has made me want to help kids even more because I know how the parents feel.
When do you suggest parents seek out some of the therapy options you offer? (i.e. how do we know picky eating habits need to be addressed or when speech is a problem?)
If a parent is questioning their child’s language, articulation, fluency, or feeding ability/ picky eating at all then I recommend an evaluation. Use your child’s typically developing peers as a good base-line to determine if you think he/she is on-level or demonstrates some differences. As moms we are frequently portrayed as worriers, overly cautious, paranoid etc; however, WE are the ones who know are child best, and WE are the ones who spend the most time with them. From my personal experiences, mom gut is real and accurate. An evaluation for speech is not invasive or risky. It is simple and can take 20 minutes to 2 hours (depends on the area of concern). An evaluation for language, articulation, and fluency is typically comprised of some pictures, play-time, and conversation. A feeding evaluation consists of a thorough examination of the mouth along with an observation of the child eating a snack/ meal.
Here are some key signs your child may need speech or feeding therapy:
- Your child’s speech is difficult for you or others to understand
- Your child’s utterances do not appear as complex as other children his/her age
- Your child gets stuck on words when he/she is speaking and repeats whole words or parts of words (stuttering in early language learners can be developmental)
- Your child is losing weight due to having a limited number of “safe foods” or has to drink a supplement to get enough nutrition
- Your child’s picky eating has made meal times stressful and is impacting the family negatively.
- Your child struggles socially and demonstrates weaknesses in the area of non-verbal communication (pragmatics)
Best advice for moms who experience the inevitable and dreaded MOM GUILT?
Best advice… We all feel it. We should take advice from the men. I mean really, is there such thing as DAD GUILT?
How important is it for you to have a passion outside of being a mother?
My youngest son was extremely ill and had a life-threatening diagnosis. I had to quit work for a total of 6 months in 2018. Staying at home every day satisfied the mom in me. I loved that time with him and would not have traded it for anything; however, a part of me was missing during that time. I love my job! Being a speech therapist is part of my identity and I greatly missed it. That time showed me how important it is to have something for myself that is separate from being a mom.
Who has most influenced you to be the mom you are today?
Definitely both of my parents. My mom was a perfectionist and had it all together while my dad was laid back. I have tried to adopt both of them into my parenting style.
When parenting gets hard, what’s something you tell yourself that gets you through?
My husband Andrew travels often so I have to take care of my 3 kids and 3 dogs solo. It is a lot of pressure some days. God gets me through. I lean on him daily and He reminds me of what this is all for. I can hear him saying “You’re almost there.”
Name one thing you hope your kids look back and remember about their childhood and you as their mama?
That I listened to them. As parents we are always telling our kids. At night time, when I tuck them in, I just listen to them. Sometimes they are just silly, and other times they tell me things about their day that I would have never known.
What would you tell the old “You” before you had kids?
YOU HAVE SO MUCH FREE TIME! USE IT WISELY.
We are all about community, as are you! What does having a mom tribe mean to you?
All of our family lives so far away (almost all of them are in Georgia). On my street there are 7 ladies I’m close with. I know that if I have a true emergency they are here for me and I am there for them. I consider them family because I rely on them like family.
To learn more about Shawna and her business, be sure to follow along on social media and visit her website!