When she landed her first professional job as an aide in a high school for a student with autism, Nicole Murby fell in love with the profession. Later that year, she went on to become a speech-language pathologist, graduating from the University of New Hampshire with a Master’s Degree in Communication Sciences and Disorders. Nicole has been a Speech-Language Pathologist for the past 17 years and she’s been working with children and adults with disabilities for the past 26 years. Basically, her entire career has revolved around supporting people with disabilities, specializing in children with autism, developmental disabilities and severe communication disorders. “All children should be able to be in a learning environment where everyone has value, an environment where there is an understanding that we all have strengths and areas of challenge, an environment where everyone can teach and learn from one another,” she says. 

Having two children with special needs herself, Nicole knows that being a parent of children with disabilities can be challenging both financially and emotionally. Gavin, her 10-year old son has autism and 14-year old daughter Grace has Noonan Syndrome (a genetic disorder that prevents normal development in various parts of the body)—both needing supervision most of the time. Because of this, she has always wanted to do more for children and families affected by disabilities and has been instrumental in creating various parent support groups over the years. Nicole began her Florida career as a speech and language pathologist with the public school system of Manatee County where she stayed for four years. “The need for SLPs in the schools is staggering,” says Nicole. “But when an opportunity at Easterseals came, I knew it was a chance to make a bigger change.”

Starting as the Director of Therapy and a Speech-Language Pathologist, Nicole has worn lots of hats at Easterseals during her 15 years with the organization. “Since 2007, we have started multiple programs including: The Lily School for Child Development, Behavioral Therapy, Elementary School, and The Autism Center for Excellence (psychology, mental health, case management for families),” shares Nicole. “Our organization has quadrupled in size and I have a great sense of pride over the work we have done.”

Nicole is constantly inspired to create a stronger, more visible community for people with disabilities and their families, and like all good parents, she finds this inspiration through her children. It is part of what has led her to create the award-winning preschool at Easterseals. 

When Grace was an infant, Nicole reports that she was turned away from many preschools as they couldn’t meet her daughter’s medical and therapeutic needs. “It was fairly devastating financially as I could only work part-time and had to rely on family to watch her when I could work.” When Grace turned one, however, Nicole found the Selby Preschool at the Haven, a school that gave her daughter everything she needed—caring teachers and an amazing team of therapists. “As a parent, I wanted Grace to be in an environment that supported diversity, had the ability to meet her needs, but also to be with all children.” Nicole knew that the same type of program was needed at Easterseals so she worked to make that happen, and much more.

Always composed and soft spoken, Nicole remains relentless and fierce in her advocacy for all families. Kameron Hodgens, Director of Community Impact at Gulf Coast Community Foundation is a longtime colleague in the community who praises her friend and the work she does: “Nicole is a consummate human services professional. When working with families in need or with her Easterseals team members, she easily transitions between empathic mother and strong leader. Her calming nature, even during times of pressure and stress, are a reminder to all that with clarity and heart, no problem is too large for a winning solution.” 

“Hard things are put in our way, not to stop us, but to call on our courage and strength.” This quote hangs on her wall and is clearly a mantra for Nicole. “So many hard things come to pass in a lifetime,” she says. “It’s important to focus on moving positively forward and not get stuck in the problem.” Some of Nicole’s  most memorable moments include watching her daughter learn to swim last year. “It just took the right teacher,” she says. “I was so proud of her and she is proud of herself every time she gets into the pool with no floaties. The power of independence and pride in her eyes is something that I will never forget.”

Professionally, Nicole is very proud to have put together a team of amazing professionals to start the Autism Center of Excellence. “The case management and counseling for families facing difficult roadblocks is life-changing and empowering,” she says. “Our diagnostic clinic provides life-long diagnoses for children and adults, and opens up much needed therapeutic, educational and employment services they didn’t have before.” SRQ

In December 2021, Nicole Murby was honored as one of SRQ Magazine’s Good Heroes. “It’s a huge honor to be recognized as doing good work for our community,” she says. “It’s inspiring that creating an equitable environment for children and adults with disabilities is important and worth highlighting by SRQ Magazine. It gives me a strong feeling of empowerment to do more.”