In October Therapy Focus staff members Sharon Hedley, Natasha Maseyk and Ruyi Tong travelled to New Zealand to work alongside staff at partner organisation, Autism New Zealand. Over two weeks the team visited Autism New Zealand’s various offices to experience service delivery first hand and attend the organisation’s signature training programs designed for professionals and parents of individuals with autism.
Sharon, Natasha and Ruyi share their experience:
Flying overnight from Perth to Auckland, we were warmly welcomed by our Autism New Zealand hosts and were invited to attend an interagency training session that focused on a Lego program for children with autism. Talking with the staff, we were impressed by the engaging and systematic program, and the way it was well supported by skilled volunteers.
We then travelled to Rotorua where we sat in on an education event called ‘Way to Play’. This was facilitated by two very skilled presenters, Tanya Catterall and Neil Stuart, who blew us away with their knowledge and practical approaches to supporting children with autism to develop their play and communication skills. We came away enthused by the learning experience, and discussed the ways in which this type of educational event could support the children and families receiving services from Therapy Focus.
Following Rotorua, we spent the next few days back in Auckland learning about various support groups and outreach work that Autism New Zealand’s Outreach Coordinators are involved in. Throughout our interactions with staff we were humbled by the passion, resourcefulness, experience and commitment of staff, who seamlessly marry their diverse skill-sets as both parents and professionals to meet the needs of the people they work with. It quickly became clear how committed the staff are to the organisation’s slogan of taking ‘every step together’ to support people who request advice and information.
On our last evening in Auckland, we attended the Strengthening Early Learning Opportunities Program (SELO), which was also conducted by Tanya and Neil. This program is designed for educators to learn about autism and ways to support individuals to successfully transition from preschool to primary school. The program evolved from collaboration between Autism New Zealand and the Ministry of Education, and was a clear reflection of the quality standing Autism New Zealand has within their local disability sector.
While in Auckland, we also had the opportunity to meet Doug Llyod, an Autism New Zealand Board member who gave us an overview of the organisation’s strategic direction and an insight into the current disability landscape in New Zealand. As clinicians we appreciated the opportunity to learn about the current and future direction of education and support initiatives in New Zealand. Some of these learnings are applicable to how we work and how Therapy Focus might continue to develop its presence in Australia.
After Auckland we went to Wellington, where Autism New Zealand’s head office is located. The staff in Wellington provided us with an insight into the operational side of the organisation and invited us to attend the Framework for Autism in New Zealand (FANZ) Program. FANZ is a two-day introductory program for parents, carers, educators and professionals that enables participants to create a framework for understanding and supporting individuals with autism. We were impressed by how a variety of autism-related concepts were explained simply to participants and once again came away with new ideas to inform our practice and to share with Therapy Focus staff.
Our final day in New Zealand was spent in Christchurch where we learnt about the provision of holiday programs, adult groups and how services differ between the South Island and the North Island. Similarly to Therapy Focus, Autism New Zealand has signature programs and a service delivery model that allows individual branches to be flexible to the needs of their local communities.
Work aside, we made time to sight see and have fun. We travelled together, lived together and worked together. It has been a memorable two weeks for all of us and the friendships made, collaborative links nurtured and learnings gained are immeasurable. We left inspired and brimming with ideas to support our practice and share with our colleagues. We look forward to hosting our Autism New Zealand counterparts when they make the trip down under.