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Unity Through Community - Celebrating our Occupational Therapists this OT Week

This OT Week the PHN is celebrating the World Federation of Occupational Therapists’ theme: Unity Through Community.

As a profession, Occupational Therapists are united by community. OTs play a vital and dynamic role in helping people engage with and participate in their community – in whichever way is meaningful to them. Not only do Occupational Therapists work across a broad range of settings, they also help people engage in meaningful occupations.

This year, we want to recognise the OT profession and celebrate some of the brilliant OTs working today across our Hunter New England and Central Coast OT community. Below we share the stories and views of four Occupational Therapists from across our region on their passion for their profession and what keeps them going each day.

Ashleigh Coburn

Ashleigh Coburn completed a Bachelor of Occupational Therapy (Honours) at Newcastle University in 2016 and has been working in paediatrics for 7 years, currently employed as Senior Occupational Therapist at Early Links. Early Links is a non-for-profit organisation supporting participants of the NDIS.

One of my favourite aspects of working as an Occupational Therapist is the broad nature of practice. OT allows you to channel your creativity and passions and use these as a tool to support individuals to achieve their goals. Throughout my university training, I endeavoured to develop an inclusive dance and movement program for children with physical and developmental disabilities. I was fortunate enough to be supported by my employer to implement this program via grant funding. The program has now been running for 5 years and has allowed for over 100 children to access an inclusive dance program aimed at developing motor skills, sensory processing, social skills, executive functioning skills and overall wellbeing. A highlight of my career was watching as the children performed a dance routine for their proud and beaming parents. It was a privilege to witness the children’s confidence and skills blossom.

The role of OTs within the community is integral to the overall wellbeing and functioning of humans. OTs adapt a client centred ethos, ensuring that supports are specifically tailored to the individual’s needs and goals. Our aim is to promote inclusivity for all to ensure participation in meaningful activities is achievable regardless of ability.

Dave Jereb

Dave, a seasoned paediatric OT with 20+ years of experience, co-founded MoveAbout Therapy Services in 2008. Dave is the author of ‘Challenging the Story: A Surprising Simple Approach to Supporting Children with Challenging Behaviours’ and he's on a mission to end burnout in early career OTs and allied health professionals.

OTs play a crucial role in community well-being because of their holistic approach, focusing on supporting the whole person. They guide both children and adults through meaningful and purposeful activities. Such activities not only make therapeutic sessions more enjoyable and motivating but also enhance neural connections. When an activity resonates with an individual, they can link it with their existing knowledge, fostering better and more meaningful connections. It’s a career that merges compassion with clinical skills, enabling OTs to touch lives deeply.

OTs have a unique skill set that goes beyond what many might realise. They excel in supporting engagement and non-speaking elements of communication and interaction. Their profound understanding of the sensory and motor systems, essential for non-verbal communication, sets them apart. Coupled with the therapeutic use of self, OTs can create pathways of communication and interaction that might seem non-traditional but are highly effective.

At MoveAbout Therapy Services, we firmly believe that by uplifting and empowering caregivers, educators, and other professionals, we can create a ripple effect that will benefit the children they cater to. Our aim is not just to provide therapy but also to ensure that every child, regardless of their challenges, finds a meaningful place in society.

While our industry has seen a significant increase in burnout among allied health professionals, we believe that this doesn’t have to be the case if, as a community, we can support our colleagues to grow and develop competence and true confidence in their work.

Indu Haridharan

Indu was raised in the central west NSW region of Dubbo and completed her Bachelor of Occupational Therapy at Western Sydney University. For the last 5 years, she has worked as a Rural Generalist Occupational Therapist (OT) within Western NSW and Hunter New England Public Health (acute to rehabilitation to community settings). Indu’s rural upbringing and work experiences in rural NSW has enabled her to attain a genuine understanding and appreciation of occupational injustices encountered by rural and remote communities. This year, Indu joined the Compass Allied Health team in Tamworth NSW where she has a mixed NDIS caseload working with adults and paediatrics.

The role of OTs is so important to the community as it enables adults and children to continue to maintain and improve their capacity and quality of life in desired activities that take place in their home, preschool/school, workplace and during social/leisure community outings. Occupational therapy, reduces the likelihood of hospitalisation through long term maintenance therapeutic interventions.

Members of the community may not realise that OTs can work in partnership with school education providers, to support a child’s transition to primary/high school and optimal engagement in indoor/outdoor school tasks, through personal adaptations, environmental and task supports such as:

  • Fine motor/cognitive/social/play/sensory processing strategies, to improve and maintain a child’s capacity in school activities.
  • Letter formation and handwriting supports.
  • Assistive Technology solutions for typing and improving a child’s engagement in school tasks.
  • School environmental assessments.

The highlight of my career has been refining and adapting my adult OT skillset with support from the Compass Allied Health team, to work with children in the NDIS space for the first time this year!

Bregje van der Heijden

Bregje van der Heijden is an Occupational Therapist who completed a Bachelor’s Degree in the Netherlands and moved to Australia in 2010. After a year of backpacking, Bregje settled down and started working for Ageing Disability and Home Care in Narrabri, which is where her love for people with disabilities began.

As I needed a sponsor to obtain residency to Australia, I also started working part-time for Logistics Health. Although the company was mainly focussed on occupational rehab/ employment medicals/training, I started providing private OT services. At this time, I was traveling to Coonabarabran, Bingara, Moree, Inverell and Glen Innes.

I’ve had a few highlights in my career, however setting up my own business 6 years ago was definitely one of the biggest highlights. Being my own boss means I can really focus on what is best for the client, rather than ‘pleasing’ a hierarchy of people above you.

Recently we’ve started a weekly supported playgroup for children 0-5 with difficulties to assist them getting ready for school. This has been a huge success and I’m very excited to be able to offer new clients a service whilst they await one-on-one therapy. Early Intervention is the key to making the most progress! Also, we like to encourage and support families to apply for funding as this is often an unknown and confusing path for families.

I would encourage others to consider a career as an OT as the work is very diverse, and you come across a lot of different people, with different backgrounds, different needs and skills. Almost all clients are extremely grateful for the assistance and recommendations you provide.

A lot of things are taken for granted by parents with ‘typical’ developed kids, however for children with additional needs, a small thing such as being able to walk into the clinic by themselves, being able to complete a simple activity by themselves, being able to deal with a minor change such as using crayons instead of pencils is an absolute huge improvement. Celebrating these minor changes is heartwarming as the parents are usually very excited and proud and you can see a child grow into a calm and settled person who is able to fight our world. You help them set up for life and even though the children may not remember you when they grow up, their parents will be forever grateful.

The PHN thanks our OT participants above and wishes thanks all OTs from across our region for the significant contributions they make to our community.

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Allied Health professionals, practice staff and owners in the Allied Health sector, Allied Health students, and other clinicians interested in collaborative work within the Hunter, New England and Central Coast regions are invited to join us at Oaks Cypress Lakes Resort for the PHN's second Allied Health Conference which will be held on Thursday 9th May 2024.

Learn more about #StrongerTogether 2024 PHN Allied Health Conference