In January, the first pediatric feeding clinic in the Great Lakes Bay Region opened in Bay City

Last month, Encompass Therapy Center opened a pediatric feeding clinic — the only one in the Great Lakes Bay Region.

Ashley Blake is the owner and executive clinical director of Encompass Therapy Center.What services does a feeding clinic provide? It depends on the child. It might mean three to five feeding sessions a week without Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) therapy; or it could be one-on-one time with a speech therapist, then ABA treatment with feeding elements.

“Every child that comes through our doors, they get their own individualized learning plan,” says Ashley Blake, the executive clinical director and owner of Encompass Therapy Center.

Namely, the goal is to ensure that the child is eating at his or her developmental age. For instance, without therapy, a child might insist on only eating a certain type of food, or a certain brand.

“A lot of parents will be like, ‘Oh, well my kid is eating.’ But that’s not really healthy,” says Blake. “Your child can’t be 12 years old still eating fish sticks; it’s not developmentally appropriate.”

Another major barrier to feeding is oral-motor skills, for example, difficulty chewing, forming lips around a spoon, closing mouth all of the way, or drinking out of a cup. Children with these types of delays may be resistant to eating certain foods because they might “fail.”

“That can create some barriers for the family,” says Blake. “Every family wants to go out to eat every once in a while. They want it to be a successful occasion and not a child having a tantrum because they don’t want to eat (certain foods).”

The feeding clinic aims to teach oral-motor skills and help each child eat a variety of foods, including fruits and vegetables. To do so, Blake put together a multidisciplinary team.

“We want to make sure that these kids are eating good, healthy, balanced food items as quick as possible, and we don’t want to delay progress and treatment because people are not working together,” says Blake.

The new facility, located at 3710 Katalin Court, opened in July 2020.The process begins when a licensed master social worker evaluates each child’s skills and helps parents support their child’s needs. To address any behavioral issues, a Board-Certified behavioral analyst is on the team. The speech language pathologist undertakes the developmental delays that affect oral-motor skills. Lastly, an out-of-state Board-Certified specialist in swallowing and swallowing disorders consults with the speech pathologist over Zoom for a video review and case analysis at least once a month.

Other than offering high-quality treatment, Blake has built a team filled with positive people with positive attitudes. The interviewing process for new hires is rigorous; it can take a month to fill an opening. “When we record those Zoom sessions, we’re all getting educated on our feeding therapy skills, our oral-motor skills. And then that way,” says Blake, “we’re all working together and the child will progress so much more because we’re all in-tune with what we’re learning, and we’re learning together as a team.”

Encompass uses an errorless therapy approach. Each task is broken down into its simplest part. For example, the first step to stacking blocks would be to look at the block. It’s taken nearly two years to put together the feeding program.

The reading area is furnished with nature-based seating. Log furniture can be seen throughout the therapy center.“It’s been a big project because there’s none around in our area,” says Blake. “We’ve had to travel, we’ve had to take days off, we’ve had to go to conferences outside of the state of Michigan. Before we opened, we wanted to make sure that yes, we’ve done our research, we’ve had hours of professional development. And when we say that we’re a quality, evidence-based feeding therapy program in the Great Lakes Bay Region, then that’s really what we’re going to stand behind. We want to make sure that we had everything needed to be successful.”

Encompass subscribes to a nature-based program. Children go outside and play at least twice a day, year-round.There are currently two children in the program, with up to five on the waitlist. Children 12 years old and under are eligible. If you think your child may need treatment, Blake welcomes you to first take a tour of the facility and meet the staff.

“[Parents] are their child’s number one advocate,” says Blake. “The biggest thing is that parents need to be involved in choosing a therapy center, making sure that the center is doing quality therapy, and then making sure that they are a part of their child’s treatment. Because ultimately, that makes the best progress if parents are involved.”

The full-size commercial kitchen is used to teach chores and vocational skills. It doubles as an area to do science experiments.Encompass Therapy Center is a 3-year accredited BHCOE provider of ABA therapy

In the winter, the hill over this cement tunnel is used for sledding. This playscape is designed for both children and adults to play.As of August 2020, Encompass Therapy Center was the only level 3 Behavioral Health Center Of Excellence (BHCOE) in the state of Michigan — the highest score a facility can achieve.

“If we’re a Behavioral Health Center Of Excellence in ABA, then we want to still exemplify those same characteristics within our speech program and our feeding therapy program because we want quality over quantity,” says Blake.

Encompass Therapy Center opened in 2018, specializing in ABA therapy for autism treatment and other developmental disorders. In July, Encompass opened a new facility at 3710 Katalin Court, more than doubling its space and adding a playground. Read more about the expansion in this Aug. 13 Route Bay City article.

“We wanted to have a nice-sized clinic that gives children what they need at the prime time of their lives,” says Blake. “… Children should have natural light, children should be able to play, children should go outside.”

Encompass follows a nature-based philosophy in its therapy program. Every day, in the morning and the afternoon, children and staff go outside and play for a couple of hours

“It’s been embedded with how we do therapy,” says Blake. “They’re children first. It doesn’t matter about whether they have Down’s Syndrome [or] autism; they’re children first. They want to play, they want to have fun. And we’re just going to teach them along the way and they don’t even know that they’re learning.”

The gym allows for different elements of play and more social opportunities. Encompass has more than 25 clients and 35 full-time staff. Besides offering a high-quality, evidence-based treatment program, Blake also wanted to build a work environment where team members would feel respected and supported.

“You want to go to a job that you love that’s filled with positive people with positive attitudes, and they’re all there for the right reasons,” says Blake.

To learn more about Encompass Therapy Center, visit its website or Facebook page.


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