Strengthening Early Learning for Families ( SELF ) 2018

My name is Kathy Walmsley and I am an occupational therapist and the clinical director of Sensory Connections.
I thought I would share with families and colleagues the story behind one of our new ventures for 2018 – the SELF program.

About two years ago I was approached by Bre and Sim whom I knew from our intensive early intervention work with their son. It was three years since we had worked together, all was going very well for him at school and in life, and they expressed to me how were now in a position to give something back.

I was struck by how their lived experience as parents was really driving their desire to help other parents and we talked over some of their ideas and my ideas from my own experiences in working in this field for quite some time now. Small ideas shared started to grow. To my amazement they followed up by forming a charity “ The Kai Botsis Charitable Association” Then it took pretty well a whole years hard work to organise and run a cocktail evening fundraiser (and they did all of the work for this), and now there are other fundraising events on the horizon.

The specific program that they have offered to fund is one we are calling the “SELF” program for parent and children. This is about ” Supporting Early Learning for Families” with the goal of providing more help to parents early on in the piece when they learn that their child has unique individual differences and that development is not unfolding the expected way, to learn about how they themselves can be one of the key agents to supporting their child to attend, engage and interact, through their own relationship with their child. SELF is based on an Irish early intervention program ” Play Together Stay Together” (PTST) I am familiar with from my work trips to Ireland. My colleague there Gino, an Early Childhood Educator and Karen, Speech therapist have been the force behind how PTST has developed and is now being expanding throughout other early intervention teams in Ireland. I get to meet them each year when I go to Ireland and it has been wonderful to see how this program has developed over time. I have been dying to find a way to incorporate some of the ideas from PTST into our community but somewhat constrained by the significant costs that go into running this given the amount of therapist time needed. Having funding support to develop a similar program here is very exciting!

SELF will use a developmentally and relationship evidence-based approach (DIR/Floortime) which is our primary approach at Sensory Connections. There will be a combination of individual therapy sessions co jointly facilitated by Occupational therapists and Speech and language therapist interspersed with parent only group sessions. The parent group sessions provide opportunities where parents are able to reflect on their learning from the individual play based sessions with their children with other parents who are in a similiar boat.

In a nutshell SELF is for:
• Parents of children who have difficulty interacting, playing and communicating ( up to 5 years of age )
• The program is held over 7 weeks – 1 session per week on Fridays so parents need to be available then !
• It is a combination of parent training and individual parent-child sessions so parents do need to have babysitting for their children for the parent only sessions.
• Parents will be ‘coached’ to play and interact through direct feedback and confidential video recording and the videos
• There will also be roundtable discussion and video sharing with other parents attending the programme in the parent only group sessions

Parents will be asked to contribute $20 to go towards therapy supplies and refreshments however all of the other costs including paying for therapists hours for the first few programs will be born by The Kai Botsis Charitable Association. I feel so grateful that now we have the opportunity to offer this because of the hard work and efforts of Bre and Sim and their amazing network of families, friends and community supports. Thank You !!

We encourage parents to continue with their established therapy sessions during the 7 weeks. This is a supportive program but it doesn’t replace your usual therapies. We are available to help guide parents into next steps following the program and to direct them to available community resources as appropriate. We will be undertaking an evaluation of SELF and hope to expand this over time.

I am so delighted that my dear colleague Anne Nunn, Speech and Language Pathologist will be co facilitating the first SELF group with me in term 1, 2018 .

A huge thanks to the Botsis family and all of those people in our community who generously donated to the Kai Botsis Foundation, for their efforts to support other families and to help us further our work.

Please do help us to spread the word about SELF to anyone who you think will benefit.
Also do connect with The Kai Botsis Charitable Association facebook page to watch out for future fundraising events.

SELF Application form