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INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY – CELEBRATING WOMEN WORKING IN THE FIELD OF DISABILITY

On International Women’s Day I want to celebrate women who work in the field of therapy. I know we’ve been lucky to have some amazing women support us with BJ’s therapy. It’s always been interesting to get to know our therapists and find out where there passion comes from.

Over the last few years I’ve been dropping in at the NAPA Therapy Centre and I love seeing the passion of the therapists and the difference they are making in the life of the families who use their services. So I asked some of the therapy team if they’d like to contribute to this post. All the ladies answered the same questions. It’s been interesting reading their responses because while many of the answers are different, their love of the job they do shines through in each one.

ALI GEBHARDT

Occupational Therapist – NAPA Centre Sydney

International Women's Day

Tell us a bit about yourself and your job in the disability sector.

I have been an occupational therapist for 11 years and was very lucky to get into the paediatric field straight out of university. I have worked in clinics specialising in upper limb function, sensory processing, and now at NAPA Centre, I have taken on more of a developmental specialist role. I am the Head of the Occupational Therapy department at NAPA Centre and have worked here for almost 4 years. I was hired by NAPA to travel to Los Angeles and learn the specialised therapy techniques and then come back to Sydney to set up the clinic.

What drew you to this career?

I have always enjoyed helping people reach their full potential in any area we are focusing on. Paediatric occupational therapy combines hard work, laughs, silliness and allows me to be crazy at times all whilst working towards life changing goals with children. I enjoy getting results from the therapy that we do, in particular, the looks of amazement and achievement on children’s faces or their parents when goals are being achieved.

What do you find fulfilling about your job? For example – What keeps you pushing through even on a tough day? What do you enjoy?

One of the most unique things at NAPA is the intensive model of therapy. With this model of therapy, therapist’s and families have a uniquely close working relationship. I feel that the best therapy occurs when the child and therapist are having fun with what they are doing, forming friendships, learning from experiences and achieving the goals. If sessions are full of laughs and good times while working hard, it makes any therapy session fun and engaging.

Can you share a particular experience, or day, which stands out as being particularly rewarding.

One day that I remember to be particularly rewarding was when a child I was working with got up from the floor all by himself. We had been practicing this skill and he was so determined to do it. One morning in therapy as we were practicing, he got up and did it! His mum and I were screaming with excitement and celebrating, and this boy had the most incredible smile on his face. You could see that he was so impressed and proud of himself for what he was working on and what he did!

If you could share one tip to make therapy outcomes more successful what would it be?

Have fun in sessions! Therapy with kids needs to be engaging and fun! This way, kids will want to repeat the fun and games and this is how they learn!

Tell us about a travel experience you’ve had that you enjoyed – tell us why you enjoyed it so much. Or, tell us about your dream destination for the future.

The last travelling that I did was trekking through the Himalayas in Northern India. Not only was India a big step outside of the western world, but it was the most incredible learning and self-discovery experience I have ever had! I met incredible people along the way, and I had to push myself physically through the trekking. I often told myself to push through and keep climbing the mountain because I push kids in therapy every day, now it was my turn! One of the most memorable experiences on the trip was one of the local village girls playing simple games with the group – there are no language barriers when it comes to play!!

BEATRICE TORRES

Speech Pathologist – NAPA Centre Sydney

International Women's Day

Tell us a bit about yourself and your job in the disability sector.

I have been a Speech Pathologist at the NAPA Centre for the past 18 months and I absolutely love it! I especially enjoy helping clients access communication in unique ways such as through a head switch or with eye gaze. I’ve also developed a strong fondness for helping my clients learn to eat and drink safely, which ties in nicely with my secret life as a world round foodie.

What drew you to this career?

Everyone who knows me well would say I’m an absolute chatterbox, so a career where I would be helping people communicate seemed like the number one role! I soon found out I could do even more than helping people communicate, which opened up several doors of new opportunities and learning experiences. Since I can remember I have been working in paediatrics and have always had a particular interest in the field of disability, which is what brought me to NAPA.

What do you find fulfilling about your job? For example – What keeps you pushing through even on a tough day? What do you enjoy?

There are endless elements of the job that I find fulfilling, although when I see the look on my client’s face when they’ve successfully communicated what they’re thinking, want or need, I cannot express how happy it makes me feel! I also really enjoy the moments when the parents of my clients come into the office and are rejoicing because their child did something extraordinary or really progressed with a skill we have been practising in therapy. Even on a tough day, I think about how far so many of my clients have come and remember how important the work is that we’re doing for them.

Can you share a particular experience, or day, which stands out as being particularly rewarding.

There was session we introduced a high- tech augmentative and alternative communication system (a communication app on an iPad), also known as AAC, to one of my weekly clients, a gorgeous 3 year old girl who for the first time told her mum when she’d been asked, “my name is _____!”. Mum was in tears and of course, so was I.

If you could share one tip to make therapy outcomes more successful what would it be?

Involve your client’s family as much as possible, you only see your client for a few hours a week, then they spend the rest of their time with their family. If you don’t show your families what you’re doing, or make your goals and expectations reasonable for carryover at home, progress can be slower than desired.

Tell us about a travel experience you’ve had that you enjoyed – tell us why you enjoyed it so much. Or, tell us about your dream destination for the future.

A few years ago I travelled all around South- East Asia and it was my first time to see so many different countries and ride so many planes in the ONE trip. I thought it was simply the best balance of jungle exploring, mountains, beach, temple hunting and more! The most memorable experience would have to be the time I spent an elephant sanctuary in Chiang Mai, a city in mountainous northern Thailand. I got to feed the elephants, walk them through the jungle and bathe with them against a beautiful waterfall backdrop. If you haven’t seen South- East Asia, I would highly recommend it!

LIZ FARSI

Director of Rehabilitation/Physiotherapist – NAPA Centre Sydney

International Women's Day

Tell us a bit about yourself and your job in the disability sector.

I graduated in 2010 with my Doctorate in Physical Therapy in the United States and have been licensed in Australia since 2016.  I’m a physiotherapist and The Director of Rehab working at NAPA Centre in Lane Cove with an amazing multi-disciplinary team of physios, occupational therapists and speech therapists that provide intensive and weekly therapies to hundreds of kids around Sydney and the world.

What drew you to this career?

I spent a lot of time as a teenager and young adult coaching youth soccer, skiing, and have always loved being around children, in general. My father was a child psychologist, which also drew me to working with children.  When I was injured playing soccer as a teenager, I spent a lot of time rehabbing my knee with a physio, and became drawn to the occupation.  As soon as I found out I could put the two together, I knew I wanted to be a pediatric physiotherapist.

What do you find fulfilling about your job? For example – What keeps you pushing through even on a tough day? What do you enjoy? 

The smile and absolute look of pride in the families and kids when they do something new for the first time.  I love that I get to basically play all day.  I also get to work with an amazing team of intelligent people that all love the same thing I do- working with children.

Can you share a particular experience, or day, which stands out as being particularly rewarding.

I had worked with a child for many visits in his past over a year or so, and he was always very unhappy, unfortunately, typically verbalising his complaint the whole time.  I remember when I was working with him one day, and I made a funny sound effect with my lips, and he started laughing!  From then on out he slowly began to enjoy therapy and now he rarely complains. Any time I make a child laugh, it makes me very happy, but that one particular case will always stand out to me.

If you could share one tip to make therapy outcomes more successful what would it be?

Therapists need to spend time really understanding what exactly makes each kid tick.  If you can make therapy FUN, the kid will want to play with you all day.

Tell us about a travel experience you’ve had that you enjoyed – tell us why you enjoyed it so much. Or, tell us about your dream destination for the future.

My husband and I traveled to Vietnam, and we moved from north to south trying to see as much as we can.  The whole experience was incredible.  At one point, we were able to stay in a very rural area in a homestead; we had to sleep in mosquito nets, had no electricity and were nearly flooded in as the road was washed out overnight.

LOUISE CONN

Intensive Program Co-ordinator – NAPA Centre Sydney

International Women's Day

Tell us a bit about yourself and your job in the disability sector.

Firstly, I’m a mum to 2 beautiful 11 and 9 year old daughters. My 11 year old daughter has severe cerebral palsy, so I live and breath the disability sector in all areas of my life. It has led to my career change from magazine art director, to running the Intensive Therapy program and scheduling for the NAPA Centre in Sydney. I’m the link between the families and the therapists, and try to make families journey into the world of intensive therapy a smooth and positive experience.

What drew you to this career?

Wasn’t much of a choice! As Georgie got older, managing a career in publishing and design was becoming increasingly difficult. And I was struggling working with people whose biggest issue in life was what colour a jumper was! We were already clients of the NAPA Centre in LA, so when the opportunity arose to help establish NAPA in Australia, I jumped at it, as it was an area I had unique experience in and am very passionate about.

What do you find fulfilling about your job? For example – What keeps you pushing through even on a tough day? What do you enjoy?

I think the families keep me going. I love speaking with them, meeting their gorgeous and unique children, and being part of their journey as the therapy program at NAPA makes such an incredible difference to kids progress. It literally can change the direction of a child’s life in such a positive way. I also love working with such a skilled and dedicated therapy team – they are the best. Even on the toughest of days, with endless emails, calls, and demands, I only have to watch a kid take their first step ever, and it makes it all worthwhile.

Can you share a particular experience, or day, which stands out as being particularly rewarding.

I have had a few experiences where families have first arrived at NAPA looking pretty desperate for help for their child. They are tired, stressed, and have been painted a really disheartening future for their child. I listen to their stories, share my own journey, and we share tea and tears. And then somewhere in the third week of the intensive, there is a change, and there is laughter, cheers, and happy tears, as their child has done something completely amazing. It literally changes the entire family. You can see that a cloud lifts, they are smiling again, and the future is looking a whole lot brighter.

If you could share one tip to make therapy outcomes more successful what would it be?

Trust the process. Everyone is there to help and make a positive impact for your child. It is stressful when the kids cry, but, like all exercise programs, you need to go further, mentally push through, and work harder than you think possible, and then you can see the benefits. It is tough, and can test you and the kids, but it will be worth it. The smallest changes will re-energise you. And take the time to meet other families on the journey. They become the most incredible support.

Tell us about a travel experience you’ve had that you enjoyed – tell us why you enjoyed it so much. Or, tell us about your dream destination for the future.

I’ve been really lucky and have manage to travel to many places around the world, and lived in 2 other countries with my husband, so its tricky to pin it down to one spot (although Positano and Marrakesh are pretty special!). But, my dream destination for now is to go skiing in the US or Canada, and try out the adaptive ski programs for Georgia. Friends rave about it so would love to get some mountain air and have a massive and fun adventure!

A big thanks to Paul from NAPA for coordinating this and to the ladies for taking time to participate.

I wrote a story about NAPA Therapy which you can read here.

 




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