GIVE Program helps Sharon learn to walk again
Therapy Focus client Sharon Barber suffered a massive stroke in 2013 and is learning to walk again with the support of physiotherapist Carly Baseden.
Through GIVE Program funding Sharon is the recipient of an exercise bike, which is just a few months has contributed significantly to her recovery and rehabilitation.
“My wonderful physiotherapist, Carly, suggested that an exercise bike would be hugely beneficial to my recovery,” says Sharon.
“I use the bike every day and I have already achieved some goals with Carly as a result of the extra muscle strength in my legs. It has given me so much hope for further progress.”
Sharon is on a disability support pension and her husband had to give up work to care for her full time. Initiatives such as the GIVE Program – which is made possible by generous donations from the WA community – can assist with the added cost of having a family member with disabilities.
“Thank you to every single donor who made this possible; you have changed my life for the better” says Sharon.
“This funding has made such a huge impact on helping me to learn to walk again and take steps that weren’t possible before. I am extremely grateful for your generosity and I can’t thank you enough.”
To learn more about the GIVE Program, click here or contact us.
Do you like having your photo taken?
We’re looking for volunteers to take part in a series of photo shoots to help showcase our services and how we work with people with disability.
In May, our Brand Engagement Team will be arranging for professional photographs to be taken of children and adults accessing Therapy Focus services. Therapists and support staff will also take part in photo shoots.
Expressions of interest are being sought from Therapy Focus clients and their parents/carers to take part in these photos shoots.
Where will the photos be used?
The photos will be featured on the Therapy Focus website, social media profiles (e.g. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn), banner signage and in promotional publications such as service brochures, event flyers and info sheets.
How long will the photos be used for?
Generally, we keep and use promotional photographs for three years. After this time we archive the images and arrange for new photographs to be taken.
Before you take part in a promotional photo shoot we will ask you to complete an Image Consent Form. This provides formal permission for Therapy Focus to use images and recordings of you. You can withdraw your consent or change the conditions/limitations at any time, but please note that we cannot remove photographs that have been published – like in a printed newsletter for example. By signing an Image Consent Form you are agreeing to this. We will always do our best to remove any photographs that you do not want used however.
What’s in it for me?
The individuals and families who take part in photo shoots will be given access to digital copies of the professional photographs to use as they wish. Our photographer captures visually stunning images, which previous subjects have printed and framed.
Images are powerful. We believe that you will also be help educate people about disability and celebrate diversity in our society.
Where do I sign up?
If you are interested in taking part in a photo shoot, please register your interest by completing the form below.
Please note: We are seeking expressions of interest from Therapy Focus clients, their parents and carers.
GIVE provides the power of play
10 year-old Rhianna is discovering the benefits of play, such as improved strength, coordination and confidence, thanks to a playset funded by Therapy Focus’ GIVE Program.
Rihanna has Autism Spectrum Disorder, developmental coordination disorder and dyspraxia, which affect her ability to walk, run, jump and throw. She also has significant visual perception issues, making it difficult for her to climb steps or ladders without help.
Rhianna’s carer, Leanne, said that the Rhianna would get upset when she saw other children doing things she couldn’t do easily.
“Rhianna has delayed and inhibited gross motor skills, which makes it hard for her to do things other kids her age can do,” she said.
“She tries so hard to do the things she sees everyone else doing, but gets very frustrated when she doesn’t succeed and goes into severe meltdown mode.”
So late last year Leanne applied to Therapy Focus’ GIVE Program for a grant to purchase a play set that would allow Rhianna to practice at home. Her application was successful and a play set, including monkey bars, ropes, climbing apparatus, a fireman pole, netball hoop and swings, was installed at the family home.
“Last year Rhianna did not have the coordination, let alone the strength to be able to climb stairs or grasp the top of a monkey bar,” Leanne said.
“Now, just one month after receiving the play set she is able to climb the ladder, hold onto the frame and move across the monkey bars easily. She can even pull herself on top of the monkey bars and crawl across the top of them to the other side.”
“Having the play set at home also means that she can practice her skills in a familiar environment, rather than at the park or play centre where she’s goes in to sensory overload and can’t regulate herself.”
Pictured: Rihanna hanging from the monkey bars in her play set.
All the practice on the play set is also helping Rhianna work toward achieving her therapy goals, which include climbing stairs independently and accessing the community safely.
“More recently Rhianna has been walking up and down stairs with one foot per step opposed to two feet per step with minimal frustration,” Leanne said.
“She still has a long way to go in terms of building her strength and coordination, but we are working on it daily with assistance from her Physiotherapist and Occupational Therapist.”
Leanne said that the grant had been life changing for Rhianna and was thankful to the donors who make the GIVE Program possible.
“I cannot tell you how much the GIVE grant has changed this little girl’s life,” she said.
“Without access to this kind of equipment Rhianna’s skills would be nowhere near where they are now – and her confidence grown so much. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts.”
Pictured: Rihanna playing on her play set funded by the GIVE Program.
Therapy Focus’ GIVE Program is made possible by generous donations from the Western Australian community. Therapy Focus clients, their families and carers can apply to the GIVE Program for funding grants to purchase items that promote Independence, participation and social include of people living with disability. To donate or apply, click here.
Introducing our new CEO Angelena Fixter
Following an extensive national recruitment process, Angelena Fixter has been appointed the new Chief Executive Officer of Therapy Focus.
Angelena will commence in the role on Monday 29 April after relocating to Perth from New South Wales’ Clarence Valley, where she most recently held the position of CEO at community service organisation, CRANES.
Angelena has significant experience as a CEO, Director and Chairperson in the commercial, public and not-for-profit sectors and is passionate about enabling customer-driven services that are responsive to people’s needs.
Therapy Focus Board Chair Fiona Payne said her fellow Board Directors and Acting CEO Ruth Lee believe that Angelena is a great fit for the organisation.
“Angelena’s commercial mind and social heart, combined with her past experience leading business transformations in both the UK and Australia, make her the ideal leader for our organisation during this time,” she said.
“She is driven to achieve excellence in customer experience, as well as organisational development and growth.“
“We welcome Angelena to Therapy Focus and very much look forward to working with her to grow the organisation to its full potential.”
Ruth Lee will continue as Acting CEO until Angelena commences work on Monday 29 April.
Learn more about Therapy Focus’ senior management team here.
KONGA megaclass highlights importance of ‘me-time’
Fitness instructor and mother of four, Tyare Pugh, is inviting the Perth community to take part in a free KONGA® workout to help raise awareness of autism and highlight the importance of self-care.
Tyare has partnered with Therapy Focus to host the event, which will be held in front of the Perth Bell Tower on Friday 29 March from 6:30pm.
Three of Tyare’s four children are diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, a life-long developmental disability that affects the way a person interacts with others and relates to the world around them.
Tyare said that she found solace in fitness programs such as The Jungle Body’s KONGA® and started the event not only raise awareness of autism, but to encourage other parents and carers to find ‘me-time’.
“I found strength, courage, friendship and, most importantly, balance through fitness programs like KONGA®,” Tyare said.
“I wanted to share this discovery with others, so for the past three years I’ve invited parents, carers, therapists, people with autism and the broader community to wear blue and take part in a KONGA® Megaclass to kick-start Autism Awareness month.”
“It’s an opportunity for people to have some fun through fitness. Self-care and self-love are so important and I think everybody needs to find ‘me-time’.”
Pictured: Tyare Pugh (second from left) with fellow “Autism Mummy” Sera Matasere (second from right) and fellow KONGA enthusiasts Deborah Reid (left) and Mal Maduka (right).
Sera Matasere attended last year’s event on a whim and now attends Tyare’s weekly KONGA® classes, which she runs through her fitness company, The Real Tyare.
“I went along because I felt alone as a mother of a child with autism.”
“I was really nervous and worried that people would judge me because I hadn’t opened up about our journey. I was tired, exhausted and very sad.”
“But when I got to the event and was surrounded by a sea of blue I realised that I wasn’t alone. Autism was so much bigger than I ever realised.”
Sera said that being a parent to a child with autism was both “magical and rewarding”, but that it can be “heartbreaking” too.
“Parents with children who aren’t on the spectrum don’t always cope, but parents with children who have a disability – it’s a different realm.
“You need to find an outlet to help you manage the everyday stresses. Find a parents group, find a gym, work, dance – do whatever makes you happy. Find your happy and you’ll be a happier parent.”
“KONGA® is my saving grace. It’s not so much an escape, it’s simply my happy place.”
To find out more about this year’s event, visit the Facebook page.
Pictured: Last year’s KONGA for Autism Awareness event.
Quality Evaluation: Provide your feedback
In April, the State Government Department for Communities’ Disability Services will conduct an independent quality evaluation of our services to assess how well they meet the National Standards for Disability Services.
Our clients are the most important part of this evaluation and we invite people accessing Therapy Focus services to provide feedback to the evaluator. Participation is voluntary.
How you can be involved
If you would like to provide your feedback please contact the evaluator directly:
Robyn De Jong
Phone: 0413 889 999
All information you provide is confidential.
How your feedback is used
Once the evaluation is complete a draft report will be prepared. This report will outline whether our services are meeting the needs of our client in line with the National Standards for Disability Services. You may request a copy of the draft report to review and provide comments before it is finalised.
The final report will be presented at an exit meeting, which Therapy Focus clients are welcome to attend to hear about the key findings of the evaluation. We will advise details of the exit meeting once confirmed.
If you have any questions or would like further information please do not hesitate to contact us.
Finding their way with Support Coordination
For David and his mother Ngoc, who speak English as a second language, Support Coordination has been invaluable in terms of navigating the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).
After fleeing Vietnam as a refugee, Ngoc arrived in Australia in 1985 and gave birth to her son David a year later. David was born with Down Syndrome and after receiving his NDIS Plan, Ngoc chose Therapy Focus to provide Support Coordination services.
Therapy Focus Support Coordinator, Michelle Southwell has been working with David and Ngoc since 2017 to implement the supports in David’s Plan. Michelle said her role is to assist NDIS participants, their families and carers to understand their NDIS Plan and link them with service providers and community supports.
“I empower participants and their families to exercise choice and control when deciding on the services and supports that can help them achieve their goals,” Michelle said.
“I do this by building strong relationships, networking with stakeholders and addressing any barriers that prevent participants from achieving those goals.”
Pictured: Ngoc (left), Michelle (right) and David (centre).
Michelle attends meetings with Ngoc, David and other service providers to ensure the family understands the role of each provider and the services available to David. Ngoc said that Michelle has been a great help, particularly where processes or systems can be challenging.
“Michelle has helped me through the difficult process of applying for guardianship of David, which has allowed me to make informed decisions with regard to his health, finances and lifestyle needs,” Ngoc said.
“She has linked me up with an advocate at the Ethnic Disability Advocacy Service, referred me to Silver Chain for continence aids for David, and encouraged me to re-join a local carer support group run by Ishar Multicultural Women’s Health Centre, after I stopped attending.”
Michelle said that she will often take on a liaison role when working with families like David and Ngoc, who can find it difficult coordinating services.
“I will contact David’s therapists and other service providers for updates in relation to his goals, and assist when Ngoc when has trouble explaining what one service provider is doing to another service provider,” Michelle said.
“I recently arranged a meeting that included David’s Support Worker from Activ and his Physiotherapist from Therapy Focus to ensure that everyone was on the same page with regard to David’s exercise program, for example.”
As David’s sole carer, Ngoc said that she wants her son to be as independent, happy and healthy as possible in case she is no longer able to care for him.
“I want David to be happy, go out, keep active and one day live with a group of people if I’m not able to look after him.”
To learn more about Therapy Focus’ Support Coordination services click here or call 1300 135 373.
Pictured: Ngoc (left) and Michelle (right).
SOS makes feeding fun
A group of Therapy Focus clients with feeding difficulties are finding the fun in mealtimes thanks to an innovative program called the SOS Approach to Feeding.
During the summer school holidays, five children took part in sessions facilitated by a Therapy Focus Speech Pathologist, Occupational Therapist and Dietitian trained to deliver the transdisciplinary program.
Advanced Speech Pathologist, Jahde Sumner said that the program is an effective way to address problematic feeding behaviours in children with disability.
“The SOS Approach was developed by Dr Kay Toomey and stands for Sequential Oral Sensory Approach. It focuses on increasing a child’s comfort level by exploring and learning about the different properties of food.”
“For these children, being able to sit down and eat is such a complex thing. Some of them have difficulties with sensory regulation and exploring different textures, while others have difficulty with their oral-motor skills, which means being able to manipulate and chew foods safely.”
Dr Kay Toomey is a Paediatric Psychologist who has worked with children who have feeding problems for almost 30 years. She said that parents of children who won’t eat are faced with a difficult challenge.
“We say that SOS also stands for Save-Our-Ship, because when you are the parent of a child who doesn’t eat well you feel like you are drowning multiple times a day.”
“The program allows children to interact with food in a fun, non-stressful way, beginning with the ability to tolerate the food in the room and in front of them, then moving on to touching, kissing, and eventually tasting and eating foods.”
“Our goal is to help children learn to eat through playful interactions, so that they can develop a healthy, lifelong relationship with all foods”.
Rachael Wilkinson registered her 5 year-old son Elijah in the program in an effort to broaden the range of foods he eats. She said that in just six sessions he was trying foods he had never tried before.
“Elijah has a really limited diet. He’ll only eat food that are very soft in texture or pureed. He has a problem with his oesophagus, which we think is the reason for his sensory issues.”
“Toward the end of the program he put apple in his mouth for the first time. He wouldn’t bite it, but he put it in his mouth, which he has never done before. Then he took a bite of a carrot in the final session, which was amazing.”
Similarly to Elijah, 6 year-old Zack has an aversion to solid foods. His Mum Emma said that the SOS program had helped Zack try new foods and break his usual mealtime routine.
“Before the program Zack would only eat the same foods of the same brand – he was very routine in his eating.”
“In the sessions he put new foods in his mouth for the first time ever. He’s now tried twiggy sticks, carrots and Cheetos, which he’s actually putting in his mouth and chewing. He spits them out, but that first step is a huge improvement.”
For more information about the SOS Approach to Feeding visit www.sosapproach.com.
Therapy Focus offers comprehensive therapy services, including speech pathology and dietetics for children and adults with disability who need assistance with feeding and mealtimes.
You can also learn about our specialist mealtime management service, MEAHLS, here.
Behaviour support leads to positive changes
Ask any parent how they feel when their child throws a tantrum or has a public meltdown and most will tell you it’s frustrating and often embarrassing. But for mother of two, Nabila Usman, frustration had turned to distress as she struggled to manage her son Anas’s increasingly challenging behaviour.
Five year-old Anas has a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder and began receiving services from Therapy Focus in early 2018. When his behaviours began to escalate, Advanced Speech Pathologist Christine Bosch saw that Nabila was struggling to cope and enlisted the support of Therapy Focus’ Behaviour Support Team.
“Anas had become very aggressive and would hurt his younger sister. He would throw and break things and have terrible meltdowns out in public and at home, which made going out or having people over very difficult for the family. To make matters worse, his sister had started copying these behaviours,” Christine said.
“Nabila would cry most days. She felt sad for her son because his behaviour was causing others to dislike him and was so concerned that she couldn’t sleep at night and had started taking medication.”
Therapy Focus Behaviour Support Clinician, Rachael Tan, began working with Christine and the family to address Anas’s escalating behaviours. She said that the first thing she did was to identify why the behaviours were occurring.
“In our first session together Anas screamed, threw things, slammed doors and hit his Mum and sister for the full hour. Based on my observations, and from what Nabila had told me, most of these behaviours were for attention or to get something he wanted.”
Rachael encouraged Nabila to use a strategy known as Planned Ignoring, which Nabila found difficult at first, having always responded to her son’s outbursts.
“When behaviours are inappropriate but safe, I encourage parents to make a mindful decision to ignore the child,” Rachael said.
“When we react or respond to inappropriate behaviours we’re actually reinforcing or rewarding those behaviours. Nabila was giving Anas a lot of attention for inappropriate behaviours by telling him off, giving him cuddles or trying to give him time out.”
“I asked Nabila not to look at him, and not to say anything, to just ignore him. She found this really hard because, like a lot of parents, she felt she needed to be doing something to discipline or calm him. Planned Ignoring feels passive, but it’s actually active because you’re purposefully avoiding reinforcing the behaviour.”
“I also talked to Nabila about ensuring she gives Anas lots of praise and attention whenever he is behaving appropriately. This helps him learn that he will get attention for doing nice things, rather than things like screaming and hitting.”
In addition to Planned Ignoring, Rachael and Christine helped the family implement use a simple ‘First-Then’ reward system to support Anas’ behaviour during routines such as mealtimes.
“Anas was very resistant at mealtimes and would scream until he got the food he wanted. So we used a ‘First-Then’ system to explain that, first you eat your breakfast, then you get the chips you want – for example,” Rachael said.
Since accessing specialist behaviour support services for the family, Christine said that there have been dramatic changes in both Anas and Nabila.
“Nabila has learnt to be patient and wait Anas out – not give in to his bad behaviours. She now feels in control and knows how to handle difficult situations,” Christine said.
“Anas has started paying attention to his mum, listening to her instructions and understands the consequences of bad behaviour.
“At our last session he was so engaged and showed an openness to learn. He has started to play, communicate and interact with others in a more positive way.”
“Rachael and I can’t believe the difference. Our first session with the family was screaming and mayhem, but we left the fourth session listening to happy laughter. And for the first time in 18 months the family was able to go to dinner at a restaurant for three hours!”
For more information about Therapy Focus’ specialist Behaviour Support services, visit https://therapyfocus.org.au/behaviour-support/
Note: As Nabila’s second language is English, Christine helped her share her experiences in this article.
The team at Therapy Focus would like to thank you for your support in 2018 and extend our best wishes for a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.
Please note that Therapy Focus will be closed from 3pm on Friday 21 December, 2018. Regular office hours will resume at 8am on Wednesday 2 January, 2019.
For emergency equipment repairs please contact suppliers directly. Therapy Focus will not be able to issue purchase orders during closures, however we will be able to pay eligible invoices upon re-opening in January. Invoices can be forwarded to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Perth Metropolitan Area:
- AC Mobility: 0421 782 522 (on call 21 December – 2 January)
- Guy’s Mobile Wheelchair Services: 0410 480 481 (not available public holidays)
- Improved Living solutions: 0447 722 831 (emergency breakdowns only)
- HospEquip: 9456 1661 (not available public holidays)
- Unicare Health: 1800 656 654 (not available public holidays)
Lower South West Region:
- Angus GB Mobility: 0450 442 118 (not available Christmas eve and public holidays, emergencies only 27-28 January)
- Cape Abilities: 9751 1446 (not available public holidays, available for local emergencies only)
- Kimberley Cycles: 0422 065 021 (Broome location)
*Artwork by Therapy Focus client, Sophia Perone.
GIVE provides wheelie great benefits
15 year-old Orion Bin Tahal is getting his daily exercise whilst enjoying opportunities to interact with neighbours and friends thanks to a bike funded through Therapy Focus’ GIVE Program.
Orion’s Mum Fabiola said that, prior to receiving the bike, her son would spend most of his time in his bedroom.
“Like a lot of teenagers, Orion likes to stay in his room and watch movies or listen to music. Music is his number one passion, but I wanted him to have more opportunities to be active.”
“I can’t ride a bike myself and I actually never knew that Orion could ride a bike until recently, when his teacher told me that he attends regular bike riding sessions at school. So I thought, well if he can ride a bike then I’ve got to get him a bike!”
Orion’s Therapy Focus Speech Pathologist and Key Worker, Claudette Brandis, supported the family to apply to the GIVE Program, which provides funding for items that promote independence, participation and social inclusion of people living with disability.
“Orion has severely impaired expressive communication difficulties and as result has difficulties starting a conversation, asking and answering questions and maintaining a conversation,” Claudette said.
“The bike provides great opportunities for Orion to be involved in the local community and reap the benefits of social interaction with his neighbours, who ride their bikes together in their quiet cul-de-sac most afternoons.”
Fabiola said that the family are now enjoying daily bike rides together.
“Every morning we’ll go for a bike ride just to get his body moving and now as the weather has started to get better hopefully we can go out in the evenings as well,” she said.
“It’s all about physical activity and just getting him out of the house and into the neighbourhood.”
In thanking donors who support the GIVE Program, Fabiola said that the bike couldn’t have come at a better time for the family.
“It worked out perfectly because the bike came just in time for Orion’s birthday,” she said.
“I would have never thought that I would be able to get a bike for Orion. For a lot of people, a couple hundred dollars might not seem like a lot of money, but for our family that’s a lot. In order to get something like a bike we’d have to do without a lot of things while we put away money.”
To learn more about the GIVE Program, click here or contact us.
Pictured: Orion on his bike.
CEO Matt Burrows steps down
After seven years at the helm of Therapy Focus, Matt Burrows will step down as CEO to return to Broome – the place that he and his family call home.
Therapy Focus has grown during Matt’s tenure as CEO and is now positioned as a leading provider of therapy in Australia. Matt has led with a strong values base and a commitment to providing services that enable people living with disability to optimise their quality of life.
The Therapy Focus Board of Directors will now start the search for a new CEO to lead the organisation through the transformation that is required to meet the challenges of the NDIS business environment. Matt will remain in his role until Friday 25 January, 2019, at which time Executive Manager of Clinical Services, Ruth Lee, will act in the role until a replacement is appointed. The Board has confidence in Ruth and the senior management group to steer the organisation until the new CEO is appointed, and beyond.
Upon his return to the Kimberley region Matt will take up the role of CEO with Boab Health Services, leading a committed primary healthcare team doing great work in a unique environment. The Board of Directors wish Matt well in his future endeavours and thank him for the past seven years of leadership.
Pictured: Therapy Focus CEO Matt Burrows at a fundraising event in his first year with the organisation.
Summer School Holiday groups & programs
Looking for something to do this school holidays? Look no further! Our therapy teams are hosting a number of therapy groups and programs for children and teenagers, as well as parents and carers.
Social Thinking Group
Therapy Focus clients aged 7-10 years are invited to learn the foundations of social thinking, including how their behaviours influence social relationships and how to identify triggers. The program will run over 4 days in January.
22 – 31 January 2019
Tuesdays, 10am – 1pm
Merriwa Community Hub, 21 Lansdowne Place
For more information or to register please contact Therapy Focus’ Jindalee office on 9562 2600 or email email@example.com. Registrations close Friday 11 January. *Please note this group is for Therapy Focus clients only.
Teen School Holiday Group
Teenagers aged 12 – 17 years are invited to take part in fun games and activities, group conversation and cooperative learning as part of a summer school holiday group. The group will run over 4 weeks and provide opportunities for social interaction in a supported environment.
11 January – 1 February 2019
Fridays, 10am – 12pm
Bullsbrook Youth Centre, Maroubra Avenue
For more information or to register please contact Therapy Focus’ Ellenbrook office on 6269 0500 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Therapy Focus’ LEGO® Club uses the principles of LEGO® based therapy to support the development of social skills, collaborative play and joint attention.
16-18 January 2019 for 6-9 years
23-25 January 2019 for 10-14 years
9:30am – 12pm daily
Therapy Focus Mirrabooka, 77 Honeywell Boulevard
For more information or to register please contact Therapy Focus’ Mirrabooka office on 6240 6500 or email email@example.com. *Please note this group is for Therapy Focus clients only.
SOS Feeding Parent Workshop
Parents and carers are invited to a series of workshops exploring the use of the Sequential Oral Sensory (SOS) approach to feeding for children aged 4-6 years with feeding disorders and other difficulties. The sessions will be delivered by qualified dietitians, speech pathologists and occupational therapists.
9, 14, 17, 21, 24, 29, 31 January 2019
10:30am – 12pm each day
Therapy Focus Mirrabooka, 77 Honeywell Boulevard
For more information or to register please contact Therapy Focus’ Mirrabooka office on 6240 6500 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. *Please note this group is for Therapy Focus clients only.
Children, teenagers and young adults are invited to take part in wellness groups focusing on both physical and mental health and wellbeing. The groups will be facilitated by a qualified dietitian, psychologist and physiotherapist.
15-16 and 22-23 January 2019
10am – 12pm for 8-15 years
1-3pm for 16 – 20 years
Gladys Newton School, Balga Avenue
For more information or to register please contact Therapy Focus’ Mirrabooka office on 6240 6500 or email email@example.com. *Please note this group is for Therapy Focus clients only.
Thumbs up for Key Word Sign workshop
Earlier this month a group of parents, carers and educators learned the basics of Key Word Sign at a workshop hosted by Therapy Focus.
Key Word Sign is an interactive sign vocabulary that includes the use of manual signs and natural gesture to support communication. It can be used with both children and adults, and can benefit people who have difficulties with attention, comprehension and/or developing speech.
At the full day workshop attendees watched demonstrations by qualified therapists and took part in activities, which allowed them to practice Key Word Sign and other methods of alternative communication. They also received the ‘Getting Started with Key Word Sign’ book and learnt about other resources such as the Key Word Sign Australia app.
Zerin Grech is a teacher at East Victoria Park Support Centre and attended the workshop to gain a better understanding of Key Word Sign and learn strategies for use in the classroom.
“I’ve been using some Auslan sign language in my classroom for the past couple of years, but a recent visit from a therapist prompted me to investigate Key Word Sign as an effective alternative,” Zerin said.
“The workshop provided a great balance of information, demonstration of interactive vocabulary and practical activities. It was a really worthwhile experience and I’m excited to start using more Key Word Sign in my classroom.”
Pictured: Attendees taking part in the Key Word Sign workshop
Another attendee, Melissa, was looking for ways to help broaden the vocabulary of a young man she cares for when she heard about the Key Word Sign workshop.
“One of the boys who is a special part of our family is non-verbal and I wanted to find ways to communicate with him more effectively,” Melissa said.
“The workshop was very interactive and a great way to broaden knowledge and learn new techniques for communicating. I would definitely recommend Key Word Sign to other parents and carers.”
The next Key Word Sign workshop is being held on Monday 8 April at Therapy Focus’ Mirrabooka office. Learn more and register on our Events page.
Volunteer and help spread Christmas cheer!
Sunny’s Helpers will be wrapping gifts at Westfield Carousel and Innaloo shopping centres this festive season to raise funds for Therapy Focus’ GIVE Program – and they need your help!
Volunteers are being sought to man our gift wrapping stations from Saturday 8 December through to Christmas Eve. Gift wrapping will kick off at Carousel shopping centre on the 8th, with Innaloo to follow on the 15th.
All funds raised will go to Therapy Focus’ GIVE Program, which assists with the purchase of items that promote greater independence, participation and social inclusion of WA people living with disability.
The following shifts are available:
Carousel 8 – 16 December
Mon – Sun: 9am – 1pm / 1pm – 5m
Thus: 9am – 1pm / 1pm – 5m / 5pm – 9pm
Carousel 17 – 21 December
Mon – Fri: 9am – 1pm / 1pm – 5pm / 5pm – 9pm
Carousel 22 – 24 December
Sat – Mon: 8am – 12pm / 12pm – 3pm / 3pm – 6pm
Innaloo 15 – 21 December
Sat – Sun: 9am – 12:30pm / 12:30 – 4pm
Mon – Fri: 9am – 12pm / 12pm – 3pm / 3pm – 6pm
Thurs: 9am – 1pm / 1pm – 4pm / 4pm – 8pm
Innaloo 22 – 24 December
Sat – Sun: 9am – 1pm / 1pm – 5pm
Mon: 8am – 12pm / 12pm – 3pm / 3pm – 6pm
If you are interested in volunteering simply complete the form below and our Volunteer Coordinator will be in touch to confirm. For more information contact us on 1300 135 373.
NS Projects give the gift of the great outdoors
On Saturday 27 October, a team of volunteers from project management company NS Projects conducted a ‘Backyard Blitz’ style garden renovation for 18 year-old Lisa Harris and her family.
Lisa has cerebral palsy and lives with her Mum Tania and two teenage siblings in their Kenwick home. Lisa’s Occupational Therapist Deborah Waghorn nominated the Harris family for the garden renovation, seeing that Lisa would benefit from a more accessible backyard.
“Lisa is now in her last year of school and we want to make sure she is able to access her home more easily in her wheelchair, particularly as she begins to spend more time there,” Deborah said.
“We wanted to create a space that she could enjoy as independently as possible, but also where she could spend time with her family.”
The team from NS Projects met with Deborah and the family to plan a more accessible and sensory-stimulating garden, which included paving, shade sails, a vegetable garden, worm farm and fire pit.
Pictured: Two volunteers from NS Projects laying paving
“The garden is simply amazing!” Lisa’s Mum Tania said.
“All the veggies are growing – there are already tomatoes, the passionfruit is climbing its frame and we can’t wait to eat the corn.”
“The worm farm is going well and the fire pit has already been used a couple of times. It’s so nice having an area that Lisa can get to in her wheelchair.”
As a finishing touch, the team from NS Projects also purchased and installed a hammock for Lisa to enjoy out of her wheelchair.
“Lisa absolutely loves coming out and laying in the hammock. She lays under the trees and just chills. It really helps get her – and all of us really – outside in the fresh air.”
“The whole garden renovation experience was so lovely. Having a group of strangers in your backyard working was quite surreal, but they were all so friendly and really made it so comfortable. It was such a kind gesture from the volunteers and the company, and we are very appreciative of their generosity and hard work.”
NS Projects has partnered with Therapy Focus since 2014, donating project management expertise and labour for a garden renovation each year. NS Projects have also funded a number of equipment and assistive technology items, which are not eligible for government funding.
For more information about NS Projects visit their website at www.nspm.com.au. You can also learn more about the organisations Therapy Focus’ partners with here.
Pictured: Volunteers from NS Projects with Lisa Harris and her family in their newly renovated backyard.
Help design our Christmas card!
People accessing Therapy Focus services are invited to create a fun and festive design to feature on the front of our 2018 Christmas card.
The cards will be professionally printed and used by our staff to wish clients, schools, partner organisations and other contacts a Merry Christmas and thank them for their support in 2018.
To submit a design simply follow these instructions:
- Download the template
- Create your design using pencils, pens, crayons, textas and paints. You can also create a design using graphic design programs on the computer if you like.
- Send your design to us by Sunday 18 November via post or email
One design will be selected from entries and printed on the card, along with acknowledgement of the artist. The client who submits the winning entry will receive 30 cards featuring their design, PLUS a $20 gift card.
If you have any questions please call us on 1300 135 373 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Customer survey: We hear you!
Every two years Therapy Focus invites people accessing our services to provide feedback by completing a survey. The survey is conducted by an independent research agency and has the following objectives:
- To determine if we are meeting the expectations of our customers
- To measure our performance in relation to agreed service standards
- To identify opportunities for growth and improvement
The most recent survey was completed in July 2018 with 458 people answering a series of questions in a phone interview or online. The results of the survey show that Therapy Focus is largely meeting our customer expectations, with room to improve in certain areas.
The image above shows that:
- 93% of survey respondents answered ‘yes’ when asked if they have control over the development of the goals in their plan
- 90% of survey respondents answered ‘yes’ when asked if they have control over the implementation of their plan
- 88% of survey respondents answered ‘yes’ when asked if they are achieving the outcomes expected
- 83% of survey respondents answered ‘yes’ when asked if Therapy Focus is delivering value for money
What we also heard from our customers is that you would like us to improve in the following areas:
We have listened to your feedback and are working to make improvements in these areas.
Our Parent Reference Group has helped organise and run a series of NDIS information sessions to help our customers understand what the NDIS roll-out will mean for people living with disability, how to prepare, and how our therapists work within the scheme. More sessions are being held in Joondalup, Kingsley and Mirrabooka in November. You can register your attendance at these sessions via the link below:
Learn more and register
As we continue to improve our services based on your feedback we will provide updates via our website and newsletters. You can register to receive e-news at the bottom of this page.
If you did not take part in this year’s survey and would like to provide feedback, you can do so here. Alternatively, call us on 1300 135 373 or speak to your therapy team.
Les finds purpose at Jackson’s
Busselton resident Les Slayford has a new-found sense of purpose since securing work experience at Jackson’s Drawing Supplies with assistance from his therapy team and Activ support workers.
Since January Les has helped out at the store on Thursday mornings by unpacking deliveries and putting stock away. Store Manager Rochelle Richie said that Les has been a great help to staff at the store, helping to put away stock while other staff served customers.
“I only have a casual on Thursday mornings, so Les helps out by putting away the paints, inks, brushes, pencils and other stock,” Rochelle said.
“We loved him from the beginning – he’s a real asset to the store. He’s great with instructions and will always ask questions to make sure he knows what needs to be done.”
Les has an intellectual disability and had lived most of his life in Bridgetown with his late mother. After making the difficult move to Busselton a couple of years ago, Les became reluctant to leave the house, make new friends and take part in community events.
Les’s Therapy Focus Occupational Therapist, Lynne Duthie said that Les was initially very reluctant to help out at Jackson’s as he also had anxiety about entering the workforce.
“Les’s initial goal was to stay for just 10 minutes, but with time he has become more and more comfortable with his role at Jackson’s. He now stays for 30-40 minutes and sometimes up to an hour and a half,” Lynne said.
“He really enjoys his role at the store now, enthusiastically completing his tasks with support from his therapy assistant or support workers. It’s team work in action, with support workers also enjoying the role.”
Lynne said that the key to Les’ success has been the support he receives from Rochelle and the store staff, who have positively contributed to Les’s overall wellbeing.
“The Jackson’s team have always been warm, open and accepting of Les. The positive feedback, smiles and high-fives he shares with the staff have gone a long way to develop his self-esteem and bring him out of his shell.”
Therapy Focus Occupational Therapist, Lynne Duthie
“Les’ contribution has also really added to workplace efficiency. The Thursday delivery gets put away in less time, with staff able to attend to other tasks while Les works with the help of his support workers and therapy assistant.”
Rochelle said that the experience had not only had benefits for Les, but for the store staff as well, and that she hoped more local businesses would consider providing work experience and employment opportunities for people with disabilities.
“I think other businesses should look at offering more opportunities for people from diverse backgrounds. Give it a go. Not only are you helping another human being, you’re getting valuable labour.”
Lynne echoed Rochelle’s sentiments, saying that Les’s quality of life had improved considerably since taking on his role at Jackson’s.
“A productive role in life is so integral for a sense of wellbeing. The fact that he wants to pop in and say ‘hello’ even on a non-delivery day, shows just how important the job is to Les.”
For more information about how Therapy Focus can support people with disability to develop job skills and find employment, visit our post-school support page.
Pictured: Les putting paints away at Jackon’s Drawing Supplies in Busselton.
Sofia speaks up about autism
11 year-old Sofia Schiaffini has won an award for her speech about autism in this year’s Speak Up Awards.
The Anne Hamersley Primary School student outperformed 150 other students to make it to the finals of the interschool public speaking competition, which is hosted by the WA Freemasons.
In her speech, which focused on her experience as someone with autism spectrum disorder, Sofia said that the best thing people can do to help those with autism is be kind and understanding. The speech was so well received that it won her the Grand Master’s Award.
Sofia’s Mum Amanda said that the award was an incredible achievement for her daughter, who had difficulty accepting that she had autism up until recently.
“Sofia had anxiety and was bullied at school, but we never expected autism. When she was diagnosed at 9 years-old she was initially relieved. She’d say, ‘Now I know why I am how I am. I’m not weird.’ The denial came when she started therapy, which was something her friends didn’t have to do,” Amanda said.
“But she’s come a long way in terms of accepting her differences. She could have chosen any topic to write her speech about, but she chose to write about autism and share her experiences.”
Sofia’s Mum, Amanda Schiaffini
While Sofia was reluctant about therapy at first, she is now enjoying her sessions with Therapy Focus Speech Pathologist Caitlin O’Meara and Psychologist Kimberley Sanford, who helped Sofia explore her feelings about her diagnosis.
“Kim and I researched autism with Sofia and her family through the use of websites, books and videos,” Caitlin said.
“We encouraged self-reflection and provided resources like visual scales to help Sofia voice her feelings in a safe environment. Once she felt comfortable, we encouraged her to share her story with her friends and classmates.”
Amanda said that not only had her daughter benefited from the process, but that she had also learnt a lot from working with Sofia’s therapy team.
“I’ve learnt how to change my vocabulary and manage certain situations by using the strategies Caitlin and Kimberley have taught my family. It’s really benefited me, which in turn has benefited Sofia,” Amanda said.
“I’ve seen such a huge improvement, and for Sofia to write that speech really highlights just how far she’s come in accepting who she is.”
For more information about the services Therapy Focus offers for people with autism spectrum disorder, visit our autism services page.
Picture: Sofia Schiaffini celebrating her win with with Therapy Focus Speech Pathologist, Caitlin O’Meara
Changes to NDIS billing from 1 October
Therapy Focus has not made changes to billing under the NDIS for two years. These changes will bring our prices in line with the 2018-19 NDIS Price Guide and allow us to keep providing therapy services that are comprehensive, community-based and high quality.
The changes will only apply to NDIS participants who start services and renew services with Therapy Focus after 1 October, 2018.
Changes will be made in 3 main areas:
The price for therapy will change from $175.57 to $179.26 per hour. There have also been changes to the prices of our other services. View our Price List.
Therapy Focus can deliver services in your home, school, workplace, and in the community.
Our therapists coordinate their visits to participants and families in your area to reduce travel costs. When we have multiple appointments in the one area, we will share the costs across all the visits to ensure charges are fair. We will not charge more than the time it would take to travel directly to you from our closest office (or the agreed office).
- Travel to locations in the wider Perth metro area. To deliver services in the Perth metro area we will charge up to 20 minutes of travel per visit. This is capped at 20% of your agreed NDIS service – unless other arrangements are made.
- Travel to locations in rural and regional areas. To deliver services in rural locations we will charge up to 45 minutes of travel per visit. This is capped at 40% of your agreed NDIS service – unless other arrangements are made.
Learn more about how we charge for travel.
Therapy Focus will not charge you the first time you cancel an appointment. After this, if you cancel an appointment later than 3pm the day before we will charge you 90% of the cost. This is because we cannot replace cancellations with short notice, which limits our ability to support other participants and their families.
If you have any questions about these changes please speak with the Key Worker in your therapy team, or your local Team Leader.
GIVE provides the gift of guitar lessons
16 year-old Joseph Martin has always dreamed of playing guitar in a band. And thanks to a GIVE Program grant for guitar lessons, that dream can edge a little closer to reality.
Joseph began weekly guitar lessons at Classic Sounds Music School in Kelmscott last year, but after two terms the family found that they couldn’t afford to sustain the lessons long-term.
Seeing the benefits that learning to play the guitar had provided, Joseph’s Therapy Focus Occupational Therapist, Melissa Athanassiou helped the family apply for a funding grant through Therapy Focus’ GIVE Program so that the lessons could continue.
“Guitar lessons have provided Joseph with a meaningful leisure activity that he looks forward to each week. Not only is it allowing him to develop a new skill that he is interested in, it is also providing him with new social interactions.”
“Since attending the lessons, Joseph has been more motivated to share his experiences in social settings and his confidence is growing.”
Melissa said the guitar tutor, Dicko Green was experienced with students who have special needs, which made it a good fit for Joseph, who has an intellectual disability.
“Dicko has provided a supportive environment, opportunities for Joseph to practice his social interactions and – most importantly – joy through learning,” she said.
Pictured: Joseph with his guitar tutor Dicko at Classic Sounds Music School
Joseph’s father, Raymond said that Joseph loved the guitar and developing his technique meant a lot to him.
“When he stopped the lessons, he tried to teach himself how to play on the iPad, but he really struggled. Now he’s back at Classic Sounds he has improved a lot and after his lessons he gets out the iPad and practices,” he said.
Raymond said that the consistency of weekly lessons with a calm and patient tutor had been great for Joseph.
“He’s fantastic now and I love sitting there and watching him play. He picks up the guitar and goes into his own little world. It has helped him to be much calmer and happier and he’s become a totally different person,” he said.
“We are so grateful to have had the lessons funded through the GIVE Program and to have Melissa’s support.”
Find out more about Therapy Focus’ GIVE Program, or call 1300 135 373.
Communication clinic improves device access
Therapy Focus has opened the doors to a purpose-built clinic that provides access to a range of communication systems and solutions for people living with disability.
Staffed by experienced speech pathologists knowledgeable in the area of alternative and augmentative communication, the ‘Communication Matters Clinic’ will help people with complex communication needs trial a wide range of communication devices and systems. This include high-tech systems like touch screen devices and low-tech systems like communication books.
Clinic Manager, Therapy Focus Speech Pathologist Alison Milton, said that the new clinic hoped to reduce current wait times to trial communication devices, so that people can access funding for devices quicker.
“The reason why this clinic is so important is because people with disability, their families and therapists can’t apply for funding for communication devices without trialling them first,” Alison said.
“It can sometimes take 6-12 months to access devices for trial, and the longer someone waits to trial a device, the longer they go without a way of communicating with the world around them.”
Pictured: Federal Member for Stirling, Michael Keenan MP with Therapy Focus Speech Pathologist Alison Milton, CEO Matt Burrows and Logan Mills at the clinic opening event.
7 year-old Hamish McKercher accesses services from Therapy Focus and uses an iPad with the TouchChat app to communicate. Hamish’s Mum, Katherine said her son had tried a range of systems but liked technology and found TouchChat to be most effective.
“He tells us things with sign language but has been using TouchChat for 12 months now and that’s his favourite way to communicate,” Katherine said.
Katherine said that Hamish has always been very social, but simply didn’t have the words to communicate before receiving the device.
“It’s been pretty special to watch him have more thorough conversations with his friends and family, and he communicates more and more each day. It’s the little things, like being able to answer a teacher’s question in class that has been great to see Hamish accomplish,” she said.
Alison said that timely access to communication devices and systems was essential to improving quality of life for people with communication difficulties.
“Communication is a basic human right. Being able to communicate allows us to understand and connect with people around us, and live a full and satisfying life. It is our hope that the clinic will provide a pathway to accessing suitable communication systems that enable people with disability to be able to express their thoughts, feelings, dreams, ideas and needs.”
Clinic Manager, Therapy Focus Speech Pathologist Alison Milton
Federal Member for Stirling, the Honourable Michael Keenan MP, officially opened the clinic at an event held on Friday 31 August, where guests toured the clinic and took part in device demonstrations.
The clinic was set-up with support from Scentre Group Australia through their Westfield Community Program.
For more information about the Communications Matter Clinic, call 1300 135 373 or email email@example.com.
Individuals and families already accessing Therapy Focus services should speak with their therapy team.
Pictured: Communication Matters Clinic staff with Therapy Focus CEO, Matt Burrows.
Students help illustrate storybook about kindness and inclusion
A children’s storybook featuring illustrations created by WA primary school students has been unveiled at a Book Launch at Perth Town Hall on Thursday 23 August during National Children’s Book Week.
The storybook, entitled If I Met a Baboon Who Lost His Balloon, was written by local teacher, author and artist, Sean E Avery, and encourages readers to be kind, understanding and helpful toward others. The illustrations featured in the storybook were created by primary school students who took part in Therapy Focus’ annual Art Competition.
Pictured: Art Competition Winners 2018
This year Therapy Focus received more than 5,300 artworks from 103 schools across the state. A panel of judges chose 100 finalists from the entries, of which 21 were selected to be published.
Storybook author, Sean E Avery, said he focused on themes of inclusion in writing the rhyming narrative, which follows the journey of a hero who helps different animals with their problems.
“In a digital world where people are feeling more lost and lonely than ever before, I feel it’s so important to help remind people that they matter.”
Sean E Avery
“Drawing pictures to compliment words is a wonderful way to deepen understanding. I’m always excited to see the many different ways kids interpret words and themes like inclusion in a story.”
Therapy Focus Board Chair Fiona Payne joined Sean in celebrating the winners by awarding each student with their framed original artwork, a copy of the published storybook and a prize pack courtesy of event sponsors.
Thanks to the generous support of Art Competition Principal sponsor, The Stan Perron Charitable Foundation, a complimentary copy of If I Met a Baboon Who Lost His Balloon will be provided to every primary school in WA.
Copies of If I Met a Baboon Who Lost His Balloon and other titles in Therapy Focus’ storybook series are available for purchase from the online shop. All proceeds go toward supporting the Art Competition and Storybook Project.
Find out more about the art competition.
Resource library helps Zechariah achieve his therapy goals
A specialist resource service for people with disability and their families has opened in East Victoria Park and is providing regular access to play-based resources that can support therapy.
The Activ Learning and Discovery Centre (ALDC) is the result of a merger between Noah’s Ark WA and Activ Library, making it the state’s largest collection of specialist resources and information.
Centre Librarian, Karen Holder said that the membership base had expanded since the two the services merged, along with the items available for loan.
“The majority of our Activ Library members are families of children with autism, but we provide resources for all ages and stages,” she said.
“We have resources that help families going through the diagnosis process, as well as resources for teenagers going through puberty or coming to terms with death. Social skills is a very popular area and we have lots of books that address challenging behaviour and help with the creation of social stories.”
Karen said that the centre is always acquiring new items based on the needs of members.
“We’re able to identify gaps based on the requests we receive from families and over time we can build on the range of items available for various areas of interest.”
Activ Learning & Discovery Centre Librarian, Karen Holder
Early Childhood Teacher, Susan Glasson is available at the centre from 9:30-12:30 on opening days to provide professional advice and support families to choose play based items to enhance learning and skill development.
“Members can borrow four items for four weeks at a time, but they may return as often as they like to swap items or to try something new,” Susan said.
“We also encourage siblings to come along and borrow toys, as they may miss out when a child with special needs requires additional support and attention.”
Pictured: Zechariah and his brothers playing at the library
18-month-old Zechariah Hall has Down Syndrome and visits the centre once a month with his Mum Jacqueline and his two older brothers. Jacqueline said that the merging of the two services had improved access to resources.
“Everything is now in one place and is set-up really well. There’s a library with books grouped by various disabilities, so you can access these at the same time as choosing new toys and play equipment in a safe environment,” she said.
“There’s also someone to help you choose items that support your child’s therapy and goals at various stages.”
Therapy Focus Advanced Physiotherapist, Dan Prigmore has been working with Zechariah and his family and uses play-based therapy in sessions.
“At the moment we’re using soft play equipment like wedges and steps to help Zechariah learn how to stand,” Dan said.
“This equipment is very expensive for families to purchase, so having access to the Activ Learning and Discovery Centre is a cost-effective way to help expose children to a range of toys and keep them motivated in therapy.”
Therapy Focus Advanced Physiotherapist, Dan Prigmore
Memberships to the Activ Learning and Discovery Centre cost $160 per year. The Centre is located at 71 Jarrah Road, East Victoria Park and is open from 9:30am – 3pm, Wednesday to Friday. It also opens from 10am – 1pm on the first Saturday of each month.
For more information visit the Activ Learning and Discovery Centre website or Facebook page.
Learn more about Therapy Focus’ comprehensive therapy services.
Pictured: Zechariah playing with the toys
Therapy Focus celebrates 20 years
On Friday 20 July, 500 guests including Therapy Focus staff, alumni and special guests celebrated the organisation’s 20th Anniversary with a Gala Dinner at Crown Towers.
Parliamentary Secretary Mr Reece Whitby MLA officially opened proceedings on behalf of the Minister for Disability, congratulating staff for their dedication to supporting WA people with disabilities, and thanking the organisation for its contribution to the disability sector across 20 years.
Mr Whitby was moved by a video featuring three families who access services from Therapy Focus, saying that Therapy Focus gives people with disability the opportunity to embrace their potential.
“The young people with disability in the video – Mia, Shona and Chris – are happy, having fun, expanding their skills, are socially involved and learning how to be independent. Most importantly they are surrounded by love,” he said.
“And while we can truly thank their parents and caregivers for that love, it is Therapy Focus we need to acknowledge for helping these families negotiate challenges and maximise opportunities.”
Pictured: Mr Reece Whitby MLA addressing guests
As part of the celebrations, a number of Therapy Focus employees were presented with awards that recognised outstanding achievements.
Therapy Focus Behaviour Support Psychologist Scott Payne was awarded the 2018 People’s Choice Award, which acknowledges employees who have gone ‘above and beyond’ to support Therapy Focus clients, their families and carers.
Nominations for the People’s Choice Award are submitted by individuals accessing services, their families and carers with Scott was nominated by 11-year-old Rhys Tallowin. The following is an excerpt from Rhys’ nomination:
“I nominate Scott Payne because he helped me get my name changed to Tallowin. He also helps me be more calm and less violent. He rides a bike, scooter and skateboard with me and he spends time with me in the places that I am comfortable in. He also helps the rest of the therapy team understand me so they can help as well.”
Pictured: Scott Payne accepting the 2018 People’s Choice Award from Therapy Focus Parent Reference Group representative, Amanda Reed.
Therapy Focus South West Team Leader, Danelle Milward was awarded this year’s Leadership Award, which recognises an employee who has displayed exceptional leadership skills, demonstrated the ability to guide and inspire others, and contributed to the functioning of the organisation.
Danelle was nominated by the South West Team, who commended her skills as a leader. The following is an excerpt from the nomination:
“Danelle leads by example. She reminds us to champion inclusion and participation in the community we work in – not only for our clients, but as part of our presence as a service provider. We all agree that she is exceptional in her role as our Team Leader. She understands our individual and collective needs, and in doing so, utilises our strengths, supports us to address our weaknesses, and drives us to provide a service that builds the capacity of our clients and their families.”
Pictured: Therapy Focus South West Team Leader Danelle Milward accepting the 2018 Leadership Award from Therapy Focus Board Deputy Chair, Tony Vis.
Three Therapy Focus employees were jointly awarded the inaugural Innovation Award, which recognises outstanding creativity and ingenuity when addressing challenges, improving processes and/or delivering services.
Speech Pathologists Chloe Justins and Caitlin O’Meara and Advanced Occupational Therapist Olivia Coleman were nominated by Team Leader Niamh Fitzmaurice, who congratulated the group for their teamwork and for thinking outside the box. The following is an excerpt from their nomination:
“Driven by the opportunity to provide much-needed services to the Bullsbrook community, Chloe, Caitlin and Olivia formed what’s now known as the Bullsbrook Mini-Team. Thinking outside the box, the team was able to secure a therapy space at Bullsbrook College and provided professional development opportunities for education staff as an alternative to paying rent. Client numbers in Bullsbrook steadily increased and continue to grow, with Therapy Focus now the primary therapy service provider in both the Bullsbrook and Ellenbrook communities. The feedback from families and Bullsbrook College has been tremendous, particularly in terms of the team’s clinical skills and the professional development opportunities afforded.”
Pictured: Therapy Focus Speech Pathologist Chloe Justins and Advanced Occupational Therapist Olivia Coleman accepting the 2018 Innovation Award from CEO Matt Burrows.
A number of employees also received service awards acknowledging 5, 10 and 15 years of service. Administration Officer Heather Stanley was also acknowledged for 20 years of service, having been employed with Therapy Focus since the very start.
To see more photos from the event, visit the Therapy Focus Facebook page.
To further celebrate the 20 year milestone, the unique stories of 20 people including employees, alumni, people accessing services and their families have been shared on a special anniversary website. Read the stories at tfturns20.therapyfocus.org.au. You can also learn more about Therapy Focus’ 20 year history here.
NDIS helps Hau achieve more independence
Hau Le is a young man with goals and aspirations to live a more independent life. Prior to accessing supports through the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), the 16 year-old struggled to verbalise how he felt and what he wanted, which affected everyday activities like ordering food or catching a bus.
Therapy Focus Speech Pathologist, Kate Darwent said Hau would get easily frustrated because people didn’t understand him. He had a voice, but his words and the messages he wanted to communicate were not being understood.
“When someone doesn’t have much communication, we tend to ask a lot of yes and no questions or don’t talk to them much, which can be incredibly frustrating for the person trying to communicate,” Kate said.
Having identified a need for Hau to have access to alternative communication assistance, Hau’s therapy team arranged for him to trial a number of communication devices and systems. Once they found the best fit for Hau, the team applied for NDIS funding to purchase a device.
Kate said that the device allowed Hau to develop his own language system, which helped bring out more of his personality when he communicates with others.
“Hau is quite a joker. He uses his device to tell jokes and he messes around. So not only can he tell us what he wants, he can also tell us how he is feeling and show his personality.”
“If you want to be able to participate fully in your environment, you need to have a method to be able to express yourself and be understood.”
Therapy Focus Speech Pathologist, Kate Darwent
Hau’s mother, Lan said that since receiving the device, Hau was finally expressing himself and could tell her when something was upsetting him.
“Before getting the device he would use his body when he was angry. He would lie on the ground and try to get his own way, as he had no other way of communicating his emotions,” Lan said.
“Now I can understand him better and that has improved our relationship. We’re very close now.”
Pictured: Hau using his communication device while his Mum Lan watches on.
Hau has been supported by a multi-disciplinary team at Therapy Focus since primary school, but now also accesses Therapy Focus’ Support Coordination services to implement all the supports in his NDIS Plan.
Therapy Focus Support Coordinator, Katherine Vales is currently connecting the Le family with service providers and community supports that will help Hau learn public transport skills to further increase his independence.
“We are looking at Hau’s future goals and what we can do to support them,” Katherine said.
“Right now we’re helping Hau learn how to catch a bus and interact with his local community. We’re also getting him a Companion Card so he can start attending events.”
Therapy Focus is a registered service provider for the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS). Our comprehensive therapy services and specialist services can be accessed via a range of funding options, including the NDIS.
For more information about our services and funding available, call us on 1300 135 373. Our friendly team can help you find out if you’re eligible and provide further information about the options available.
Pictured: Hau with Therapy Focus Speech Pathologist Kate Darwent (L) and Support Coordinator Katherine Vales (R).
GIVE helps Zaki go for a stroll with his bro
2-year-old Zakariya Hashi is now able to go for walks in comfort with his new baby brother thanks to a grant from Therapy Focus’ GIVE Program.
Zaki has some developmental difficulties and is working with his Therapy Focus therapy team to achieve goals relating to mobility and positioning. When in a sitting position Zaki requires supports to help maintain head control and a good seated posture.
In early 2018, the Hashi family received a specialised stroller and seating system through the State Government’s Community Aids and Equipment Program (CAEP), which allows Zaki’s family to take him to and from appointments and access the community, as well as provide safe seating for mealtimes.
But with a new baby arriving in early 2018 and a car boot that couldn’t accommodate two strollers, the Hashi family applied to Therapy Focus’ GIVE Program for a sibling seat that can be attached to Zaki’s stroller, as well as a shade cover to protect Zaki and his baby brother Zubeyr from the sun.
Zaki’s Therapy Focus Occupational Therapist Melissa Athanassiou said she was really happy to see the stroller and attachments making life a little easier for the family of six.
“The stroller and seating system are vital to providing Zaki with a safe seated position for mealtimes and play, as well as allowing his family to go out into the community with less difficulty.”
“Zaki also has a cortical visual impairment and is sensitive to light, so the additional attachments ensure Zaki and his new sibling are protected from the sun.”
Zaki’s father, Abdifatah Hassan said that although the family hadn’t had the stroller for very long, it had been very helpful to his son.
“The stroller and seating unit has helped him quite well and in the short time he’s had it, he’s really enjoyed it,” he said.
“So far he’s really enjoyed using the stroller and we are looking forward to taking Zaki out more to see the world around him.”
Mr Hassan said the GIVE Program was important because people would be able to access items that better their lives.
“In the future, I just want Zaki to be happy, helped and loved,” he said.
Find out more about Therapy Focus’ GIVE Program
Pictured: Zaki and his baby brother, Zubeyr in their stroller system, ready for adventures
Karratha, let’s talk about continence
Therapy Focus’ specialist continence team PEBBLES is providing invaluable support to the local community in Karratha and the wider West Pilbara region, since expansion of services in early 2018.
Robin Benson and her 8-year-old son Jase were one of the first families in Karratha to access the service, which is available to children and adults with disability who experience bladder and bowel health issues, as well as incontinence.
Jase has Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and was experiencing a number of toileting issues prior to services becoming available. Robin said that due to Karratha’s substantial growth, there were a number of medical services the community just didn’t have.
“A lot of people need help and can’t go to Perth, or don’t have the money to go to Perth, so they go without services,” she said.
“Children like Jase need the services but don’t get the opportunities. All these years of not getting the right help for Jase has been hard, but thanks to Therapy Focus’ PEBBLES services becoming more readily available in Karratha, we can now access the support he needs.”
Therapy Focus Continence Physiotherapist Karina Caldwell said she joined the PEBBLES Team to provide consistent services and more support to people in her hometown who have a variety of continence related conditions.
“Being based in Karratha means I can provide more regular contact and support to families in the Pilbara,” she said.
“I see children with ASD who have difficulty with toilet training, children with ongoing bedwetting, adults with bladder urgency and women experiencing stress urinary incontinence, particularly in the early postnatal period.”
Pictured: A family speaking with speaking with a PEBBLES clinician.
Another local said that the establishment of PEBBLES services in Karratha highlighted the importance of continuity of care for people living in regional areas.
“Being local, Karina has been able to develop relationships with our school to support our son’s needs. The ongoing care we have received from Karina is amazing and I feel that without this support we would not have made the progress we have,” they said.
Karina said it was important to “mention the unmentionable” when it came to incontinence.
“Talk about any concerns you have with your GP or find a continence professional. We often don’t talk about incontinence because we don’t know where to start or who to speak to,” she said.
“Many conditions are very common and can be addressed with non-invasive treatments. They aren’t as scary as they seem once you are equipped with the right information.”
Robin echoed Karina’s sentiments, saying that talking about the issues and getting help makes all the difference.
“We need to talk about toileting. A lot of kids think it’s a joke, but it can cause so many other issues. We knew Jase didn’t go to the toilet regularly but didn’t know how to get help. Now we know the importance of understanding how the body works and it’s been great to finally have someone to guide us,” she said.
World Continence Week runs from June 18 to 24.
Learn more about Therapy Focus’ specialist continence services. Alternatively, contact the PEBBLES Team on 1300 865 401 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Specialist support for Darcy’s dietary needs
Eating and mealtimes were always a battle for 8-year-old Darcy, and the ongoing issues related to eating led his mother to seek help from the MEAHLS team at Therapy Focus.
Darcy has Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD) and began receiving services from Therapy Focus when he was 2-years-old. When Darcy began to show an aversion to foods and had trouble drinking water later in life, the family was referred to Therapy Focus’ specialist MEAHLS Team for support.
Darcy was given a variety of tools including bubbles, a flute and a chewing toy to help him strengthen his jaw and learn the correct way to chew his food.
Darcy’s mother, Sharee, said that it was eye-opening to realise that since Darcy’s jaw wasn’t as strong as it should be, some foods could be frightening to him.
Using the different strategies provided by the MEAHLS Team, Sharee has exposed Darcy to different foods on the table where he can make ‘safe’ choices and she allows him to touch the food and play.
“Darcy can play with his food – I’m probably the only Mum who says that’s okay,” she said jokingly.
“It’s about getting him used to the food and taking the pressure away from him having to actually eat it.”
MEAHLS Team therapist Danielle Cottam said that collaboration with Therapy Focus’ specialist continence team also helped address Darcy’s issues with fluid intake and constipation.
“Mealtimes include the whole body system so Darcy’s constipation was a key factor affecting his willingness to try new foods. Likewise, his difficulties with chewing linked directly to his difficulties with constipation,” she said.
“On the advice of the PEBBLES continence team, we implemented a cup that Darcy would be able to use to pace himself when drinking, as well as communication strategies to help increase his fluid intake at home and school. Darcy is now drinking water from a range of vessels and this has helped keep him regular.”
Sharee said the support of the two specialist teams have been invaluable to her son’s fluid intake and continence training.
“Like many ASD children, Darcy has had incontinence problems (encopresis). So the assistance of the PEBBLES team and giving us strategies for Darcy to drink water have been fantastic,” she said.
If you would like to access Therapy Focus’ specialist mealtime management services or continence support services, please contact us on 1300 135 373.
Pictured: Darcy doing his exercises with his flute
Layla gets on track to healthy eating
Due to her sensory issues surrounding food, eating was often a struggle for 8-year-old Layla Bonser. In a bid to find answers, Layla’s family engaged in services with the MEAHLS Team at Therapy Focus.
Layla has Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD) and began experiencing issues as a result of some unhealthy eating habits.
Layla’s mother Alicia said she didn’t know what to do, especially when Layla was missing out on vital nutrition associated with healthy eating.
“All the bad foods – I couldn’t keep her away from them,” Alicia said.
“I had no idea where to start. I was completely at a loss. We were a family that needed help. We needed help with Layla.”
Layla’s family made the agonising decision to place Layla on medication temporarily to help manage her behaviour and anger issues.
“It was an exceptionally hard choice for us, but I feel like it was the best option at the time. Hopefully once we learn more behaviour management strategies we can help Layla handle her emotions and impulses, then she can come off the medication,” Alicia said.
The medication has worked exceptionally well in terms of Layla’s behaviour, but also led to a rapidly declining appetite and Layla lost weight quickly.
We met with Claire Breen, one of Therapy Focus’ dietitians, and devised a plan for Layla for some after school snacks. We have also tried the nutritional drink PediaSure in the past week to bulk up her food intake and she is finding flavours she likes.
The family have continued to work with the MEAHLS Team and developed a plan of action to help combat Layla’s mealtime issues. This included trialling an ‘all done bowl’ for foods Layla is finished with, using visual food charts, and serving buffet-style meals where Layla can serve herself and experiment with new foods without fear.
Alicia said her family celebrated the victories whether they were big or small.
“Eating a whole meal is a big deal – it may seem small to some people, but to us, it’s huge”
Pictured: Layla on the trampoline
In speaking about receiving an autism diagnosis and accessing Therapy Focus’ comprehensive therapy services more broadly, Alicia said she felt an enormous sense of relief.
“The way in which people reacted to Layla changed once we had a diagnosis. There was suddenly acceptance, understanding and a great deal of patience,” she said.
“Layla was always the ‘naughty kid’ at school, and since getting help from her therapy team, Layla has become a better friend. She is learning to maintain friendships and she is even getting invited to birthday parties, which was non-existent before.”
Alicia said that with the help of Therapy Focus, she had learnt as a mother how to respond to Layla more positively and understand her emotions.
Being a special needs Mum can be incredibly stressful at times, but with the help of Layla’s therapy team, it has been less stressful and more rewarding. We have watched her learn and grow into the young lady she is today.
Moving forward, Alicia said she was hopeful about the future for Layla and her family.
“We just want Layla to enjoy her life and have the same opportunities as every other child. Most importantly, we want her to be happy within herself.”
If you would like to access Therapy Focus’ mealtime management services, please contact our MEAHLS Team in 1300 135 373 or email email@example.com.
Find out more about our comprehensive therapy and specialist services.
Pictured: Layla and her mother Alicia
Harry learns how to enjoy mealtime
2-year-old Harry Padmanabhan has Global Developmental Delay and is learning how mealtimes can be fun with the help of Therapy Focus’ specialist MEAHLS team.
Sitting in the family dining room, Harry reaches for the boxes on the table in front of him and opens one with a great delight in his eyes. Squealing with happiness, Harry cuddles the moose puppet that was in the box.
The box game was provided by Harry’s speech pathologist, Danielle Cottam and helps make dinner time fun. Harry’s mother Patricia said he chooses which box to do and there was a variety of activities in each that are associated with food.
Patricia was referred to Therapy Focus following a recommendation from Princess Margaret Hospital. She said that Harry is only able to eat soft and dissolvable foods because he cannot chew. His food slides down his throat too quickly and he needed help.
“Harry has always had eating problems and I would talk to people saying that things didn’t feel right and this wasn’t just a toddler problem, but I never felt heard,” Patricia said.
“The early intervention we received from Therapy Focus has been really helpful and getting the right support for Harry’s mealtime needs was fantastic. It made us feel like what we were watching was real and we felt listened to for the first time,” she said.
Therapy Focus’ MEAHLS Team have provided Patricia with a chewing toy and a whistle to assist Harry in strengthening his jaw and getting him used to the swallowing action. They are also trialling thickening liquids to help Harry’s body recognise the difference between solids and liquids, and to support nutrient absorption.
Patricia said that Harry had made great progress thanks to the collaborative efforts of his therapy teams and specialists.
He’s made great progress with his milestones and his improvements have gotten faster and closer together,” she said.
“Our therapists have been amazing in terms of the emotional support at the sessions. Offloading my stuff and feeling really listened to meant I could talk and really feel supported.”
Harry is about to start receiving support from Therapy Focus’ specialist continence team, the PEBBLES Team, and Patricia said she was happy to have the services working closely together.
I like that therapists and specialists at Therapy Focus all work together so if something is happening, they can all talk together and work it out. Being able to get it all in one place and having a multi-disciplinary team, has been so valuable to us.
Pictured: Harry using his chewing toy
New NDIS therapy pricing limits outcomes
Therapy Focus has condemned a recommendation made for the pricing of therapy services in an Independent Pricing Review Report endorsed by the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA), saying it will lead to poorer outcomes for people living with disability.
The NDIA has given in principle support for the Report, which recommends a tiered pricing structure for therapy services based on the functional needs of National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) participants.
Therapy Focus CEO Matt Burrows said that adequate input was not sought from qualified therapists in compiling the pricing recommendations for therapy supports, and that this would negatively impact on the quality of services delivered.
“The Review has been conducted and recommendations made and adopted with limited opportunity for therapists to input, especially in relation to therapy pricing, and especially in Western Australia.”
“The rationale for the pricing recommendations is able to be challenged on many fronts and the NDIA’s adoption of the recommendations, without rigorous consideration, will inevitably lead to poorer quality outcomes for people with disability.”
The rationale for the pricing recommendations is able to be challenged on many fronts and the NDIA’s adoption of the recommendations, without rigorous consideration, will inevitably lead to poorer quality outcomes for people with disability.
Therapy Focus CEO, Matt Burrows
The new pricing structure will take effect from 1 July 2018 with the full roll-out of the NDIS to be completed by 2020. Mr Burrows said that this could lead to short term market failure and challenge the viability of providers.
“The sudden adoption of a pricing structure that is so much lower than the current pricing structure will lead to short term market failure with some providers being forced to cease services. The impact of therapists leaving the workforce will see longer term challenges faced by those who decide to remain in operation.”
“The adoption of the proposed pricing structure by the NDIA is disappointing as it really sends a message that the NDIS is only a bare bones safety net for people with disability and nothing more. Such a declaration is hardly reasonable and necessary given the expectations we all have for this reform.”
Therapy Focus Board Chair Fiona Payne agreed with Mr Burrows saying that the changes would also impact access to vital early intervention services for children with disability.
“The drastic reduction in pricing for therapy significantly limits the development of a fit for purpose workforce. I am frustrated that children will be denied the opportunity to benefit from the early intervention and evidence based clinical practice that research shows changes their lives forever.”
The drastic reduction in pricing for therapy significantly limits the development of a fit for purpose workforce. I am frustrated that children will be denied the opportunity to benefit from the early intervention and evidence based clinical practice that research shows changes their lives forever.
Therapy Focus Board Chair, Fiona Payne
For more information, read Therapy Focus’ position statement regarding the independent review of the NDIS pricing strategy.
Visit the NDIA website to learn more about the independent pricing review.
Sweet experience for girls with autism
On Friday 5 April, the same day the United Nations met to discuss the importance of empowering women and girls with autism, the Margaret River Chocolate Company opened their doors to a group of young girls with autism, offering them a lesson in chocolate making.
Therapy Focus South West Team member, Jonelle Fraser, arranged the tour in celebration of World Autism Awareness Day and this year’s focus topic. Jonelle has two daughters with autism and was recently diagnosed herself. She said she hoped the chocolate making lesson would help the girls feel a sense of belonging.
“I wanted to create an opportunity for our girls to come together in Margaret River and feel the support of their community and a sense of belonging. I couldn’t think of a better place than the Margaret River Chocolate Company,” Jonelle said.
“The staff were so accommodating and made adjustments to ensure everyone could participate. There is a viewing window to the chocolate making area so the girls were able to see their parents at all times and anyone could step out if they needed to.”
“We had support from a couple of girls aged 13 and 26 who also have autism and acted as mentors for the younger girls. It was great to see the group of girls with autism ranging in age from 7 to 46 creating together. Hopefully the group will continue to meet and friendships will continue to grow.”
Jonelle said that girls with autism presented differently to boys with autism and often mask their feelings.
“They put so much energy into being themselves, but being themselves in a way that does not offend anyone. Bullying is a huge issue for our girls because they are quirky and they do think differently.”
“That is the battle girls face. They internalise it all. This is why we have to give them a voice and help them feel empowered to say this isn’t working for me.”
Pictured: the group of girls getting ready for their chocolate making lesson as Liberal Member for Vasse, Libby Mettam and Shadow Minister for Community Services and Youth, Tjorn Sibma look on.
Tracey Taylor said that while her daughter was excited about the visit to Margaret River Chocolate Company, she would have experienced anxiety about going.
“She will go through a situation like this looking very happy and okay but at the end of the day it could mean a big meltdown just as a release of that anxiety built up throughout the day,” Tracey said.
“The common thing with girls is that they are very good at masking their feelings, so someone looking in will think they are fine, they have a smile on their face everything is okay. But inside is a different story.”
Ms Taylor said that when girls with autism are in an environment where they need to behave, when they are not around family or people they trust, they tend to remain composed.
“At school they generally want to do the right thing and hold it together but when they get home that is when the meltdown hits,” she said.
“It has its challenges but it also brings a lot of compassion and understanding for what is happening to these children.”
Since receiving the diagnosis, Ms Taylor said it has enabled her daughter to access the support she needs and helped her understand herself and navigate the difficulties.
Pictured: Jonelle’s daughters, Anika and Tehya Fraser with their custom made chocolates.
Autism educator and inclusion consultant Annie Cohen said it was important for people to gain a better understanding of autism.
“I would like people to choose to walk beside people with autism and see how it is through their eyes,” Annie said.
“You can look at someone with a broken leg and say you need some crutches. When you walk beside someone with crutches for a week you see it is actually really exhausting and uses a lot of energy.”
“If you walk with someone who has autism and does not know what is going to come their way to make them upset or worried, you see the things they put up with and cope with day-to-day.”
“You can hear what makes them anxious and see the world from their perspective. Then you can change to interact with them.”
Margaret River Chocolate Company General Manager Daniel Robe said they were delighted to provide a positive experience for the girls.
“The girls really enjoyed themselves and hopefully the experience will be a good memory for them,” he said.
Vasse MLA Libby Mettam and Shadow Minister for Community Services and Youth, Tjorn Sibma, also attended the event and said it was a fantastic initiative.
“I encourage other small businesses to take the lead in what has been illustrated by the Margaret River Chocolate Company, as a community we will all benefit,” Ms Mettam said.
Pictured: The group of apprentice chocolatiers with Sian from the Margaret River Chocolate Factory.
Therapy Focus offers a range of services and support for people with autism. Learn more.
‘Coding club’ harnesses unique talents of youth with autism
Extraordinary attention to detail, a very literal mind and the ability to look at things differently are just some of the unique talents held by young people with autism that are being harnessed to create pathways to valued, long-term employment.
Therapy Focus Occupational Therapist Kahlia Wingfield is working with Curtin University’s Autism Academy for Software Quality Assurance (AASQA) to help young people on the Autism spectrum find employment in the area of software testing.
AASQA Founder and Director Professor Tele Tan said the ‘Coding Club’ program, allows participants to use their natural talents in a practical and complimentary way.
“Software testing is something that is quite often overlooked by corporates,” Tele said.
“So we are providing this particular ability or strength of people with autism; for example, attention to detail and the ability to go through things with a fine tooth comb and to be able to do this repetitively. These skills are extremely important in the information communication technology industry.”
Kahlia said this was the case for program participant Chris Van Der Walt who completed a work placement at a software company as part of the program.
“Generally if a youth with autism has a particular interest or niche skills in the area of coding, the tasks are often completed with a high level of accuracy,” Kahlia said.
“This was certainly the case at Chris’ recent work placement where feedback was that he often picked up errors in the codes that the employer missed himself.”
Pictured: AASQA participants Scott Bradley (L) and Chris Van der Walt (C) with Professor Tele Tan and Therapy Focus Occupational Therapist, Kahlia Wingfield.
While he believes having skills in programming and an awareness of technology and how technology works at a very young age is important, Tele said a collaborative, community approach was essential for the program to work effectively.
“The support that Kahlia provides is key to identifying the strengths of participants and matching these strengths with jobs that will enable them to continue their self-development,” Tele said.
“By tailoring the experience, both students and employers get the very most out of the opportunity. Kahlia’s skills are especially important here. Preparing someone to enter a new environment – like going on work experience for the first time – is extremely important. If you get it wrong, they’ll have a bad experience and they’ll never do it again, so it’s very important we get it right the first time.”
In addition to helping program participants prepare for work placements, Kahlia educates employers about autism to ensure all parties have clear expectations and knowledge of what can be achieved through work experience.
“I meet with the employer prior to the placement to discuss their knowledge and understanding of Autism Spectrum Disorder, what they can expect, and how to best work with someone with autism,” Kahlia said.
“During the work placement it’s my role to keep the lines of communication open between all parties – the participant, their family and support network and the employer – to ensure the experience is as successful as it can be.”
Chris’s Mum Cindy said that attending the Academy has not only improved her son’s job opportunities, it had also improved his overall wellbeing and outlook on life.
“It’s the best thing that ever happened to him,” Cindy said.
“Before he started he was always angry and very sad, and since he started the program it’s like he’s a new person. He’s so happy. Everyone comments on him smiling. They never saw him smile and now he’s smiling and laughing and all you hear about is coding club!”
Cindy said Chris was looking forward to pursuing his education even further following coding club.
“He has everything planned already; he wants to go to TAFE to do his Cert IV and then he wants to go to Curtin to go on with this program, and then we’ll see from there!”
For more information about AASQA visit the Curtin University website.
Pictured: The group programming a robot.
Learn more about the services and supports Therapy Focus offers children and adults with autism.
School holiday group gets out and about
Over the January school holidays a group of 10 children and young people with disability got out and about in the community with support from their therapists.
Led by Therapy Focus Speech Pathologist Jaime Offord, the group came together over 4 days to practice using public transport, being safe in the community, communicating with others and shopping and money handling skills.
“The school holiday group provided participants with supervised and structured opportunities to learn and practice various life skills in the community, independent of their families,” Jaime said.
“We strive to capitalise on the incidental teaching of skills in a functional, everyday environment whilst also prompting socialisation and friendship between participants.”
The skills the group were learning through the program culminated in a big adventure on the last day, which involved catching 2 buses and a train from the Therapy Focus Mirrabooka office to Joondalup Shopping Centre and back again.
“Once we arrived at the shopping centre, the group broke off into smaller groups to complete specific tasks that utilised the skills they’d been learning, Jaime said.
“For one participant this was using a shopping list and finding items in the supermarket independently, and for another it was texting his mum and being able to clearly explain exactly where he was.”
“We knew these young people could learn the skills to be independent in the community, so we provided them with opportunities to learn with the right level of support and prompting. Everyone came in with different goals but worked together really well to be able to achieve them.”
Pictured: Dario Bobanac, Joseph Gabriel, Thoman Phan and Leroy Sassine with Therapy Focus Speech Pathologist Jaime Offord on the train to Joondalup.
One participant who made astounding progress over the 4 days was 12 year-old Samuel Becvarovski, whose goals centred around using the Transperth website to plan a journey. His Mum Domenica explained how important this was for him.
“Samuel is almost a teenager and is starting high school this year so it was important for him to have more independence,” Domenica said.
“Being able to catch the bus to school by himself is important and he needed the tools from his therapists to be able to do this independently. He’s now confidently using the website and catches the bus to school by himself every day, which is something he’d never even attempted before the group.”
Jaime was also impressed with Samuel’s progress, with his goals being reached above and beyond expectations.
“Samuel was really committed to his goals and by the fourth day of the group he was not only planning his own journey, but teaching others in the group how to use the site!”
Pictured: Samuel Becvarovski successfully caught the train using the Transperth planner.
Learn more about the support Therapy Focus can provide for the development of social skills and community participation.
Help and hard work improves Troy’s literacy
While his peers enjoyed their 6 week break over summer, 13 year-old Troy was working hard and making great progress with his reading and spelling.
Troy has autism and his literacy progress had plateaued over several years. So in early 2017 – Troy’s final year of primary school – his Mum Hayley enlisted occupational therapy and speech pathology services to support her son’s development.
“With high school coming up I wanted to set Troy up for success and thought some extra support with literacy would be helpful,” Hayley said.
“He can get anxious about spelling and writing so building up his confidence has been a really important focal point.”
Therapy Focus Speech Pathologist, Kate Dixon explained that a strong working relationship with Troy’s teachers, plus a lot of hard work by Troy himself was the key to their success.
“We worked closely with Troy’s school and teacher last year, ensuring we were all on the same page and working towards the same goals,” Kate said.
“This meant that even when his therapy team wasn’t there, Troy was still being encouraged to use the strategies we’d developed for him and there was constant support.”
“When school finished up for the year we organised a short block of therapy sessions to maintain and continue developing the gains we’d made. Going into the 2018 school year Troy’s reading and spelling had gone up almost 2 whole year levels.”
“Troy and I use a lot of different strategies in our sessions. We often use a whiteboard and magnets to practice putting together different sounds that make up real and nonsense words. This has helped Troy increase his fluency and vocabulary.”
Mum Hayley has been amazed by Troy’s progress and says she’s still seeing big improvements.
“From this time last year to now Troy’s writing has hugely improved,” Hayley said.
“He’s using longer sentences and his spelling is so much better. High school is a big change but he’s developing the skill set he needs to handle it.”
Learn more about Therapy Focus’ services for people with autism.
Learn more about the role of a Therapy Focus Speech Pathologist.
Pictured: 13 year-old Troy at school with Speech Pathologist Kate Dixon.
Communication wins for Team Travis
A collaboration between Therapy Focus and partner organisation Interchange has helped Travis become a happier, more confident member of his local recreation centre.
Travis enjoys being active in the community and regularly visits the Mandurah Aquatic and Recreation Centre. Travis’ support worker, Kieren Birmingham from Interchange, was supporting him to access the gym and pool, but found that certain triggers at the Recreation Centre were interrupting his planned activities and causing him distress.
Whist Kieren could identify the triggers, it was difficult for him, and staff at the Recreation Centre, to communicate with Travis when he was distressed.
“It was clear Travis wanted to exercise more choice about what he did when he attended the Centre,” Kieren said.
“So we worked with Travis’ family and Therapy Focus Speech Pathologist, Tania Muscat, to develop a visual communication tool that allows Travis to communicate his choices to me. I can also use the tool to respond effectively.”
Pictured: Travis shooting hoops with Therapy Focus Speech Pathologist, Tania Muscat (L) and Interchange Support Worker, Kieren Birmingham (R).
Together, staff from Interchange and Therapy Focus developed a collaborative approach that reduced gaps in service delivery and ensured Travis was better supported to achieve his goal. This collaboration saw the creation of ‘Team Travis’, which included his mother Janet, Tania, Kieren, staff from the Recreation Centre, and of course, Travis.
“Our shared strategy started with a simple initiative that was supported by the Centre staff,” Tania said.
“Travis was to enter through a ‘staff only’ door, as the cafe near the main entrance was initially a trigger for him. Next, the visual communication tool we developed was introduced.
This helped Kieren and the Recreation Centre staff provide Travis with more choices and a sense of control.”
“Very quickly the behaviours reduced and new routines were developed. The strategy was simple but very effective.”
Travis is now finding more enjoyment at the gym and pool, and has begun to enter through the same door as everyone else.
Interchange CEO, Justin O’Meara Smith said that collaboration between the two organisations is successful because both organisations share the same beliefs and values.
“We put the person at the centre of our work. We involve family, and others who know each person in our planning. We look at the adaptions needed to overcome barriers and we strive to help people with disability share ordinary spaces and be part of their community,” Justin said.
“The people we support benefit when we listen. Travis was trying to tell us something but we needed a better way to communicate with him. Therapy Focus helped us to do that.”
“Our collaboration draws on the strengths and talents of our teams and, most importantly, creates a shared plan that is greater than the sum of its parts.”
Interchange works across the Perth Metropolitan Area to help people with disability be actively engaged in their local community.
For more information visit www.interchangewa.org.au.
Shona’s standing tall
13 year-old Shona Heard is seeing the world anew thanks to her new sit-to-stand frame.
By transferring herself almost completely independently from her wheelchair to the frame, Shona can adopt a standing position from which she can complete her exercises, help her mother in the kitchen and check if she’s taller than her Therapy Focus Physiotherapist, Emily Brock.
“The sit-to-stand frame has been a fantastic piece of equipment for Shona and she’s made significant progress since receiving it,” Emily said.
“She’s able to strap herself in and use the hand pump to bring herself up to a full standing position. This helps stretch the tight muscles in her legs and improve her standing posture. It has also made transfers easier for her family and carers as Shona is able to hold more of her weight through her legs.”
“Another key motivation for getting the new frame was to help Shona exercise more easily. A lot of her exercise program is designed to be completed in a standing position using hand weights, resistance bands and punching exercises to improve core stability and upper body strength.”
Pictured: Shona doing her exercises with help from Therapy Focus Physiotherapist, Emily Brock.
Shona’s mother, Kate, has also been amazed by the progress her daughter has made with her new sit-to-stand frame.
“The frame gives Shona so much independence,” Kate said.
“She can be more social by being at the same level as everyone else, and she’s in charge of her position.”
“She’s still learning how to use it and she’s getting more confident with it every day.”
Pictured: Therapy Focus Physiotherapist Emily Brock with Shona and mother Kate.
Learn more about how Therapy Focus can support people living with disability to access equipment and assistive technology.
Doors open to South West community
On Friday 23 February around 50 guests came together to celebrate the opening of Therapy Focus’ first regional office in the heart of Margaret River.
Therapy Focus Board Chair Fiona Payne and CEO Matt Burrows officially opened the space, with Matt saying that the office would provide an all-important base for the mobile team.
“Having built a team of 13 professional clinicians in the lower South West over the past two years, it’s great to now have a central hub for them to work from when coordinating service delivery in Busselton, Dunsborough, Augusta, Bridgetown, Manjimup and surrounds,” Matt said.
“An objective of the National Disability Insurance Scheme has always been to increase choice and control, and to foster efficiencies in the marketplace. In working towards these objectives, Therapy Focus is proud to extend services to the lower South West community and deliver quality therapies in a way that minimises travel.”
The new Margaret River office is fitted with meeting spaces and a state-of-the-art clinic room, meaning that our clients can choose to book appointments at the clinic in addition to home, school or community visits. Essentially we can come and see you, or you can come and see us.
Pictured (L-R): South West Team Leader, Danelle Milward with Margaret River Primary School Deputy Principal, Lorraine Macauley and Local Area Coordinator, Erin Statz.
Therapy Focus client and Pemberton local, Karlee Roche treated guests to a guided tour of facilities, which include a meeting room, open-plan office and large therapy room with a suspended sensory swing.
Leanne Margetts also addressed guests at the opening event, sharing her experience accessing Therapy Focus services for her 9 year-old son Tate.
“Tate has severe oral sensitivity and is yet to transition to solid foods, so feeding is a major focus for us. Having access to a feeding specialist in addition to speech pathology, physiotherapy, occupational therapy and psychology services has been amazing. It’s a level of support we’ve never had before,” Leanne said.
I really appreciate Therapy Focus’ team approach because it means everyone across everything and I don’t have to keep sharing the same information.
Pictured: Therapy Focus client, Karlee Roche tries out the sensory swing while Advanced Occupational Therapist, John Lees looks on.
Therapy Focus South West Team Leader, Danelle Milward, said that while her team had made great progress in the region, the new office would help clinicians better meet the diverse needs of clients.
“We’re working to fill the gaps, particularly in terms of early childhood and school-age intervention services. We’re also doing a lot of work to support adults with disabilities to live more independently,” Danelle said.
“The establishment of the new Margaret River office will mean that so many more individuals and families will be able to access the support they need, including those without disabilities who wish to purchase our clinic services for a fee.”
You can visit Therapy Focus’ Margaret River office at 3/111 Bussell Hwy, Margaret River.
To view photos from the opening event, visit our Facebook page.
Pictured: Therapy Focus’ South West Team with Board Chair Fiona Payne, CEO Matt Burrows, Executive Manager Clinical Services Ruth Lee and Regional Manager Evan Williams.
Mentoring at the Men’s Shed
A group of 18 young men living with intellectual disability have gained vital job skills through a Men’s Shed mentoring program.
In partnership with Therapy Focus, Curtin University and Western Sydney University ran the six-month program inviting men aged 17-24 years-old to visit their local Men’s Shed once a week to work on a range of hands-on projects including woodwork, metal work, gardening, arts and crafts, and computers.
Project Lead Dr Ben Milbourn from the School of Occupational Therapy, Social Work and Speech Pathology at Curtin University said the project had been hugely successful.
“By working with mentors from their local Men’s Shed who had been trained by occupational therapy and nursing academics from Curtin University and Western Sydney University, these young men boosted their confidence and knowledge of work skills, experienced decreased anxiety, and developed their work routine and work relationships,” Dr Milbourn said.
One of the young men has already secured employment after taking part in the program and many will continue their involvement with their local Men’s Shed because of the relationships and skills they have developed.
With 6 months of experience under their belts and a range of new skills, the men graduated from the program at a special ceremony where they were awarded their certificates by Disability Services Minister, the Honourable Stephen Dawson.
Three videos have been produced showcasing the program and the journey of two participants, Jamie Clements and Declan Prince.
From wheelchair to walking
12 months ago 9 year-old Jaydan was completely dependent on his wheelchair and only just learning to stand independently. Today, he’s walking around the classroom and dancing through his physiotherapy sessions.
Jaydan has complex congenital heart disease, Di George syndrome and chromosomal deletion. This affects Jaydan’s ability to breathe and as a result he has constant oxygen support via nasal prongs or a face mask.
Over his life Jaydan has undergone several corrective surgeries to increase the blood flow between his heart and lungs. With his most recent surgery just last year, Jaydan has been doing intense rehab with his Therapy Focus Occupational Therapist Alix Combe and Physiotherapist, Nicole Massey.
“Jaydan is continuing to do weekly therapy sessions to build his strength and endurance,” said Alix
“He’s now able to walk far enough without his walker that he can deliver his finished work to his teacher for marking. This is a huge milestone for Jaydan. Everyone is very impressed with him.”
Pictured: Jaydan and Therapy Focus Occupational Therapist Alix Combe.
Jaydan’s amazing progress in walking independently is largely a result of all his hard work doing his physiotherapy program during the summer holidays.
“Jaydan didn’t have a summer break, he kept on working hard” said Nicole
“In October 2017 Jayden was able to walk 80 meters in 6 minutes with his walker. Jaydan has been extremely motivated to increase his ability to walk further, and after lots of hard work with his therapy team and family, in January 2018 he doubled his previous distance, walking 160 meters in 6 minutes.”
“Jaydan’s favourite thing to do at the moment is to put on his Michael Jackson playlist and show off his dance moves as he walks around the room, a feat that would not have been achievable a year ago.”
Jaydan’s new found independence has been great news for his family too, as he is now completing more daily activities independently.
“His progress with walking has been amazing,” Jemma said.
“School is much easier for him when he’s more mobile. While he’s still got a long way to go, we’re excited to see him continuing to make such amazing progress.”
Pictured: Jaydan and Therapy Focus Physiotherapist Nicole celebrating a successful stair climb.
Find out more about Therapy Focus comprehensive therapy services, including support the development of movement and mobility.
David’s breathing easy with speech pathology
As a 7 year-old, David Barker, who has intellectual disability, was non-verbal and showing no progress towards reading and writing milestones.
With communication and daily living a constant struggle, David’s mother Dawn accessed speech pathology services for David through Therapy Focus Speech Pathologist, Danielle Cottam.
“When we started with Danielle she told us it would be a long journey” Dawn said.
“We started slow and gave everything Danielle suggested a try. She worked with us on different communication devices and left us with homework to do between sessions. She also worked closely with David’s school to ensure he was always being supported and challenged to reach his goals.”
When David was 8 years-old he started saying ‘mum’, ‘dad’ and some other basic words. We couldn’t believe the progress he’d made.
Pictured: David with Therapy Focus Speech Pathologist, Danielle Cottam.
David turns 16 this year and has continued to advance above and beyond expectations.
Now able to read and write, David is undertaking a TAFE course in agriculture through his school and using his holidays to gain important office skills by volunteering with The Good Samaritans.
“David is incredibly motivated to reach his goals,” Danielle said.
“We’ve recently been working on literacy skills and breath support for speech. Improving his diaphragmatic breathing allows him to speak full sentences without pause. On top of this, by focusing on his speech-sound activities with apps and phonological awareness tasks, David has had great improvements in his speech and spelling skills.”
Having watched Danielle and David work together for eight years, Dawn is more confident than ever that her son is headed for a bright future.
“David is now in a position to be enjoying high school and we’re confident that he’s being set up for success when he graduates,” Dawn said.
Danielle isn’t just the Therapy Focus person, she’s like a part of our family. It’s not just David who’s being supported, his progress makes daily living so much easier for our whole family. We’re so thankful for her support, none of this would be possible without her guidance.
For more information about Therapy Focus’ range of services, visit the comprehensive therapy page and the specialist services page.
Pictured: David practising breathing exercises with Speech Pathologist Danielle Cottam while his parents Dawn and Paul watch on.
Lucas the Karate Kid
9 year-old Lucas Hillbeck is taking on school with a new found confidence after receiving a Therapy Focus GIVE grant to fund his karate lessons.
Lucas has Dyspraxia which causes him difficulty in co-ordination and movement, as well as intellectual disability and severe speech delay, which can make concentrating and communicating in a classroom environment challenging.
Lucas first started karate when his mother, Stephanie thought it would be a good accompaniment to his physiotherapy.
“A few years ago when Lucas was really struggling with gross motor skills and core strength we enrolled him in karate, swimming and dancing,” said Stephanie.
“We found that as well as helping him physically, karate helped him with discipline and his ability to be confident in his communication with others.”
“His progress has been fantastic so we’ve applied to the GIVE program a few times to keep him coming to lessons. I was so excited to find out that our application was successful this time.”
School of Freestyle Martial Arts Instructor Glen Philips explained how the school had been working with Lucas to assist him in his physical and intellectual development.
“Something we instil in all our students, regardless of ability, is to be confident to communicate verbal commands to those around them when they don’t feel safe, comfortable, or just need more space. The physical practice follows on from there,” said Glen.
“As Lucas learns longer sequences and more complex moves he is learning to increase his concentration and memory, as well as gaining more physical strength. Just like all the other kids here, Lucas is expected to be focusing and showing respect to the best of his ability, at all times.”
With school going back for term one, Lucas is back in the dojo and enjoying karate more than ever.
“Even just from the break over the school holidays we saw a big difference in Lucas’ co-ordination and behaviour,” said Stephanie.
“Now that school is back we’re hoping karate will continue to develop the skills he’s been working hard on.”
Learn more about the Therapy Focus GIVE program
Pictured: Nine year-old Lucas Hillbeck with his Karate Instructor
Small steps make a world of difference
Parents always want the best for their kids, but how do you give them the best when life’s given them a tough start?
When Joanne DeCampo’s 5 year-old daughter Tayla presented with developmental delays and challenging behaviours, Joanne was at a loss as to what to do.
“Tayla wasn’t speaking, struggled with social skills and was only eating a very small variety of foods,” Joanne said.
“She had challenging behaviour and threw a lot of tantrums as she was so frustrated by not being able to communicate her wants and needs.”
With these symptoms front of mind, Joanne decided to have Tayla assessed for autism, which resulted in a diagnosis earlier this year.
Autism is a lifelong developmental condition that affects, among other things, the way an individual relates to his or her environment and their interaction with other people. Other signs to look for include social communication and interaction difficulties, and restricted or repetitive behaviours and interests.
With the diagnosis finally confirmed, Joanne chose Therapy Focus’ South West Team to help Tayla with her speech and occupational therapy.
11 months on, both Joanne and Tayla are over the moon with the progress made, as is Speech Pathologist Heidi Jupp.
“Many people with autism have difficulty initiating and maintaining relationships,” Heidi said.
“Tayla and I work on her social skills in many ways. For example, we often role play using puppets to practice talking to peers and introducing herself.”
As well as working with Heidi, Tayla also receives one-on-one support from Occupational Therapist Rebekah Wallace, who is teaching Tayla strategies to cope better at school and self-regulate her emotions.
After less than a year of therapy, Joanne said she had already seen a huge improvement in Tayla.
“As well as telling me her wants and needs, she can now talk to me about what she’s been doing at school. These might seem like smalls things, but for our family it’s made a world of difference.”
Pictured: 5 year-old Tayla with Therapy Focus Speech Pathologist Heidi Jupp
Empowered through dance
A dance program being run across Perth is giving adults of all abilities the opportunity to express themselves through dance whilst growing their confidence and self-esteem.
Dance Inclusion is managed by former support worker Tatam Rosato, who hosts daily classes with up to 60 people with various disabilities putting on their dancing shoes.
Tatam explained how her experience as a support worker inspired her to start the program.
“It’s so important to focus on what people can do, rather than what they can’t,” said Tatam.
“Some of our dancers can’t move independently at all, but even moving with assistance is a sensory experience. It’s exercise and it can but a big smile on their faces.”
“The goal of Dance Inclusion is to enable students to feel empowered and to give the opportunity to express their own unique style of dance in a safe and happy environment.”
One keen dancer is Ross O’Dea. Ross, who receives support from Therapy Focus, has been attending Dance Inclusion classes at Cockburn Youth Centre every week this year.
Ross’s support worker Fiona Conway has been attending the program with him and has seen the positive effects first hand.
“Every week he has so much fun learning new moves from Tatum and making friends with the other students,” said Fiona.
“It’s a really different and fun way to get involved in the community.”
In a very exciting end to the year for Ross, he was awarded the Dancer of the Year trophy at the class Christmas party.
“Ross has been such a positive addition to the class and worked so hard every week,” said Tatam.
“He’s a very deserving recipient and a great influence on everyone in the class.”
For more information about the Dance Inclusion program, visit the Facebook page.
Pictured: Ross (centre) receiving his award from instructor Tatam Rosato (left) and support worker Fiona Conway (right)
Community art for Disability Awareness Week
In celebration of Disability Awareness Week, Therapy Focus’ Margaret River Team hosted a free art workshop for the local community.
Led by accomplished local artist and disability advocate Stan Meagher, the free workshops welcomed participants of all abilities to come along, learn some new skills and develop their own piece of art.
Therapy Focus South West Team Leader Danelle Milward explained that the event was a great success in bringing the community together.
“Over the morning we had both kids and adults come through to help us create this really unique piece of art, which will be displayed in our new Margaret River office. It’s going to bring a lot of life and vibrancy to the clinic room.” said Danelle.
“As well as working with Stan, participants worked together to help each other and develop their skills. Through doing this, everyone walked away with a better understanding of what it means to live with disability.”
“Having Stan there was fantastic. During the workshop Stan talked about the process of creating the artwork, and how the process has supported his own rehabilitation.”
Stan, who was paralysed after contracting a rare virus in 2012, has had his art displayed in exhibitions both nationally and overseas.
“I have spent my life pursuing that of a professional artist which has involved me in numerous solo and group exhibitions and many international destinations,” said Stan.
“I’ve also lectured locally at TAFE, mostly in the areas of art education and art therapy.”
“I’m really excited to have been involved with the Margaret River community on this project. It’s something very close to my heart and a piece I’m very proud of.”
Read more about Therapy Focus in the South West.
Pictured: Artist Stan Meagher with his piece made for the Margaret River office
Drumming up teen social skills
Therapy Focus’ Drumbeat group is helping teenagers with disabilities connect with one another and develop their social skills through the power of drumming.
Weekly group sessions held at Therapy Focus’ Kwinana office have seen participants use hand drumming combined with behavioural therapeutic principals to achieve their therapy goals.
Group facilitator, Occupational Therapist Shonali Sullivan, explained how the group is helping teens work on a wide range of skills.
“We’ve adapted the highly acclaimed DRUMBEAT Program to give teenagers the opportunity to improve their social networks by developing specific skills such as initiating conversations, understanding social rules and expectations, and maintaining a conversation,” Shonali said.
“The engagement we’ve had from the teenagers and the feedback from parents has been amazing. Over the 10 week program we’ve seen huge improvements in their emotional regulation and self-esteem.”
14 year-old Matthew has autism and experiences anxiety around peer interaction and developing friendships. Mathew’s father Michael said that the Drumbeat group had been a great help to his son in terms of improving in these areas.
“He’s loved Drumbeat since the very first session and looks forward to it every week. He’s interacting with the other teenagers in the group without needing to think twice and is making some great connections.”
“As he’s progressed through the sessions he’s been growing in self-confidence and taking more initiative to interact with those around him.”
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Pictured: Matthew Prause taking part in a Drumbeat group session.
Another participant, 18-year-old Lachlan, explained how the group is helping him in his transition from high school.
“Now that I’m not at school any more I don’t have as many opportunities to practice my social skills, which is a big goal my occupational therapist and I have been working on. Drumbeat gives me an opportunity to do that and it’s also really fun,” Lachlan said.
“My goal is to work in the entertainment industry so it’s important that I get more confident in speaking with other people and even doing public speaking.”
With social skills and communication such a pivotal part of being a teenager, Shonali explained that Drumbeat is helping the teenagers on their way to mastering peer interactions.
“Being a young adult brings many challenges, whether it be in high school, employment or any other environment,” Shonali said.
“By taking part in our Drumbreat group it is hoped that the participants will be better equipped to take on challenges, handling them with a new found confidence.”
Pictured: Occupational Therapist Shonali Sullivan (R) facilitating a Drumbeat group session.
New Zealand exchange inspires Therapy Focus staff
In November three Therapy Focus employees travelled to New Zealand as part of an exchange program with partner organisation, Autism NZ.
The group visited branches in Wellington, Hawkes Bay, Taupo, Hamilton, Auckland and Christchurch to learn about the supports available and share knowledge.
In the following Evan Williams, Tessa Leschen and Elena Petropulos reflect on their experiences:
Evan Williams – Regional Manager
It was a great privilege to step away from my busy role, and all the chaos of a rapidly changing disability sector, to connect with people who are trying to get by with a lot less, but who are supported and given hope by some amazing people who really care.
In New Zealand, people with autism and their families have access to less government funded supports than people in Australia. Funding is generally only able to cater for about 1% of people living with a disability, and this is to cover all disabilities. It is therefore much harder to access supports for early intervention, for specialist support at school and for adults.
It was really inspiring to see how Autism NZ works with so little in terms of funding to make such a big difference in people’s lives. The fantastic education programs and outreach coordination give vital information and help people and their families to connect with others and to find supports.
After two weeks travelling across New Zealand on exchange with Autism NZ, one of my reflections was that the daily challenges, the constant stress of advocating for loved ones, the grief, the frustration as well as the triumphs and joys were universal and had little to do with governments and how much funding there is.
Those who could receive therapy and other supports highly valued them. The services gave them strategies, advice and confidence, as well invaluable emotional support. In Perth we have more funding and access to services, but having the right information and good caring people is so important for getting through the difficult times and for celebrating the good times.
Tessa Leschen – Brand Engagement Manager
First and foremost, it was fantastic to see an organisation truly working in partnership with families and communities to ensure positive outcomes for people with autism. As their tagline suggests, Autism NZ vow to take ‘every step together’ by helping families navigate the various funding and support systems, and by linking them with other agencies who offer services for people with autism. In speaking with families, it became apparent that often the greatest support is an ear to listen and a hand to hold. This is the role of Autism NZ’s Outreach Coordinators, who are based at branches throughout the country and provide a source of localised knowledge and information. Their passion and enthusiasm reinforced to me that often the best form of advertising for an organisation is its people. And with limited funding channelled solely into service provision, Autism NZ relies on relationship building with families, government departments and other agencies to ensure its standing.
I was very motivated to learn how Autism NZ are working to increase awareness and understanding of autism in the community by providing education for families, teaching staff and health professionals. Autism NZ’s National Education Manager, Neil Stewart, delivers a range of programs in collaboration with Tanya Catterral, who has a teenage daughter with autism. The use of a parent co-presenter and video case studies that demonstrate key strategies gives credibility and allows participants to really learn and apply. Having seen the level of participant engagement – and having learnt so much myself – I hope to take an active role in developing and implementing programs such as these in WA.
Adding to the impact of the education programs is Autism NZ CEO Dane Dougan’s traction in the media. By weighing in on key issues, Autism NZ strive to be the voice of families of people with autism and bring about positive change in a sector that is in desperate need of more funding.
It was heartening to see an organisation really live its brand and I’m grateful for the inspiration and determination Autism NZ has instilled in me on both a personal and professional level.
Elena Petropulos – Advanced Speech Pathologist
As a clinician, I come across people with disabilities who have low self-esteem or are fearful of failure.
This can be a significant barrier in moving forward to try new things and getting by in day-to-day life.
As part of the exchange program we attended the Framework for Autism in New Zealand (FANZ) workshop facilitated by Tayna Catterall and Neil Stuart that outlines basic principles in having a child on the Autism Spectrum. Tayna and Neil introduced a concept around having a “Proud Book” to support self-esteem. This book is a record of positive things about the person including their personal characteristics and their achievements, whether they be big or small.
It can be made from scrap paper, a notebook or notes programs on a tablet device. This visual reminder is more concrete than words such as “great job” and can be reflected on in the person’s own time. This also allows people to process and make meaning of the messages at their own pace. Proud books are not only for people who are able to read, but for people of all ages and abilities. “Proud Books” can include words and/or images to remind the person of their achievements and of things that they should be proud of.
There are many positive thoughts I have of my clients on a regular basis and I will be writing these down more often in addition to my usual positive passing comments. I will encourage the people I work with, from my colleagues to families and other stakeholders to implement this visual system in the hopes that the people we support have positive self-esteem and are able to grow and reach their full potential.
Pictured: Autism NZ National Educators Neil Stewart and Tanya Carreral with Therapy Focus staff Tessa Leschen, Evan Williams and Elena Petropulos
No more fright in the bite
Like many babies, Anthony Koomen was inquisitively trying a wide variety of foods until he suddenly became very fearful of unfamiliar flavours and textures at 2 years of age .
Ensuring Anthony had proper nutrition became a struggle for his parents as the range of foods he would eat continued to decrease significantly as he got older.
His mother Glenda explained that her son’s anxiety around food made mealtimes increasingly difficult.
“Suddenly he stopped eating things he had previously enjoyed and absolutely wouldn’t tolerate the introduction of any new foods,” Glenda said.
“It was beyond fussy eating. He would only eat very specific foods, which made getting proper nutrition a daily battle.”
Now 20 years-old and accessing support from Therapy Focus Dietitian Maddie Todd, Anthony is pushing himself to explore new foods.
Maddie explained that, although challenging, a method called desensitisation was already helping Anthony achieve positive results.
“Desensitisation sessions involve gradually introducing a new food or texture in small steps,” Maddie said.
“For example, a person may challenge themselves to just look at a food, then touch it, put it on their plate, smell it, and hopefully progress to a stage where they feel that they can chew and swallow it.”
“In Anthony’s case, he’s now tried more than 10 new foods in our sessions and is continuing his progress independently, taking it upon himself to try new foods in between sessions.”
With eating such a central part of many social activities, Anthony is motivated to get his eating on track so that he can participate in more activities with his friends and family.
“I’ve achieved a lot through the desensitisation sessions and I try to set myself small goals to work on between my sessions with Maddie.”
“I know going out to eat with family and friends can be a lot of fun, and this is something I definitely want to be doing more as I get more comfortable with different foods.”
Pictured: Dietitian Maddie Todd working with Anthony Koomen