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New Zealand exchange invaluable

Published 3rd November, 2016
Earlier this year Therapy Focus clinicians Lauren Redman and Natalie Elias travelled to New Zealand to work alongside staff at partner organisation, Autism New Zealand.


Throughout the two week exchange, Lauren and Natalie visited Autism New Zealand’s North Island offices to experience service delivery first hand and attend the organisation’s signature training programs for professionals and parents of individuals with autism.

Lauren and Natalie share their experience:

We arrived on a cold and rainy day in Auckland and were launched straight into home visits as part of Autism New Zealand’s Early Bird Program. We noted similarities in the way Therapy Focus and Autism New Zealand promote play as an important developmental stage for young children with autism, and spoke to parents about how they incorporate their child’s unique interests in play. This was a great way to start our exchange, as we were able to see first-hand the coaching support the organisation provides to families.

Another program we gained an insight to during our time in Auckland was Autism New Zealand’s Chat and Chill Parent Support Group. The group empowers parents to support one another and is a great environment for sharing experiences. We also met with some of the organisation’s Outreach Coordinators, whose role is to help families navigate the services available to them and provide guidance around all things autism.

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Pictured: Natalie and Lauren enjoying a break at Mission Bay, Auckland.

Following our time in Auckland we visited Autism New Zealand’s national office in the beautiful suburb of Petone, Wellington. We thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to meet with Joanne Dacombe, who sits on the Autism New Zealand Board and has a son with autism. Joanne reminded us of the important insights parents can provide in guiding service provision. Parents play a key role in the operation of Autism New Zealand, through their role as Outreach Coordinators, and assist with support groups and training. We also learnt about the Board’s vision for the Autism Resource Centre, which will be a ‘one stop shop’ for families to access diagnostic assessment, therapy services, training and parent support.

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Pictured: Lauren (left) and Natalie (right) meet with Joanne Dacombe to discuss parent input at Autism New Zealand and the Autism Resource Centre.

Whilst in Wellington we also met with the CEO of Autism New Zealand, Dane Dougan, and the Finance Assistant for Membership and Funding, Mary-Therese Nalder. Dan and Mary-Therese were very generous with their time and spoke to us about the challenges of operating in a system reliant on charitable funding. Despite these challenges, the organisation continues to provide relevant and valuable supports across New Zealand that are customised to the needs of each local community.

We finished our time in Wellington observing the Tilting the Seesaw Program, which teaches primary school educators about strengths-based strategies to support children with autism in the classroom. This was a great opportunity to revisit simple systems that can be used in any classroom to provide structure and routine in an often dynamic and unpredictable environment.

The remainder of our time in New Zealand was spent shadowing the Autism New Zealand National Educators, Neil Stuart and Tanya Catterall, as they delivered a range of training programs for parents, early childhood educators and therapists. Neil and Tanya are truly engaging presenters who each have a wealth of knowledge and experience. They strongly advocate the need to provide all children on the spectrum with genuine and quality engagement through play, and a common theme that resonated throughout their training was ‘show me what I can do, don’t tell me what I can’t do’. This really reinforced our role as clinicians to promote a positive, strengths-based approach to everyone we work with.

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Pictured: Neil Stuart explains the ‘seesaw’ analogy  to early childhood educators.

We particularly enjoyed the ‘proud books’ resource Tanya spoke of, which involves compiling an album of successes and special moments as a means of celebrating a child’s achievements. But our final take home message came from Neil, who taught us that while play should be child-led, it needs to be adult-guided. Our role is to be interested in their interests, know when to present new experiences, and strive to create moments of harmony.

We learnt so much during our exchange experience and thank Autism New Zealand for their kind hospitality and generosity in sharing their knowledge. We would also like to extend our sincere gratitude to Therapy Focus for their commitment to lifelong learning in providing us with this opportunity.

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