Meet the Team: Clare

Hi, my name is Clare and I’m a Speech Pathologist at Royal Far West.

What does your role involve?

As a Speech Pathologist, I work to support children and their families with their individual communication needs. One child might need help working on their speech sounds or sentence structure to support their language development, while another child might need support with stuttering, or developing healthy voice habits.

Since you’ve been here, have you seen any changes in the sorts of issues children have?

In my almost 3 years with Royal Far West, I’ve been fortunate enough to work across most of the programs including the Paediatric Development Program, Telecare for Kids and the Windmill Program.

I think COVID presented some really tricky challenges for children and their families. It shifted their whole world around and presented many obstacles, particularly for children requiring support with their social communication skills. Most of those opportunities to practice and develop age-appropriate social skills evaporated overnight because of extensive lockdowns. For a significant period of time, these children were really only interacting with their family and close neighbours and as a result we’ve seen a lot of kids struggling with social communication.

On the flipside, a positive change I’ve seen is a shift in the awareness and acceptance of neurodiversity in the wider community. This increased understanding means we are now increasingly focused on finding strength-based approaches that provide very practical and functional outcomes for families. In practice we work with the families to identify their specific goals and work on strategies to help them achieve them. For example, if their goal for their child is to develop friendships, we work on strategies to help that child keep conversations going. Alternatively, we might look at assertiveness or how to set boundaries with friends for older children. Often a child can worry that if they set boundaries i.e., tell a friend that they don’t want to play today, they will lose that friend. So, we can work with that child to help them understand that these feelings and setting boundaries are a normal part of every relationship and they can build their confidence and skills in navigating these areas to keep them and their friendships comfortable.

What led you to work at RFW?

When I first started out as a Speech Pathologist, I was working for another NGO providing support to families and children with disabilities. While I was doing that, I was also working part time at the Cerebral Palsy Alliance as a disability support worker. It was a wonderful opportunity to work in my field, specifically in speech pathology with kids, but then also see what the outcomes of my support can look like as people grow into adulthood. I could see the impact of early intervention and therapy through their independence and how as adults they have communication choices available to them to support them access and engage with the community around them.

I am particularly passionate about working with children with disabilities. I love working with the families and children to support their participation and inclusion. The opportunity to work at Royal Far West allowed me to be part of a really strong multidisciplinary team that looks at the child and family wholistically and provides wonderful services that they would otherwise not be able to access so easily living in rural and remote areas.

Royal Far West also provides a wonderful opportunity to work amongst a strong clinical team where I can draw on the experience of other highly skilled clinicians. Whenever a new challenge is presented, odds are that someone in the team has seen it before, so I always feel very supported. It’s a very strong team that provides a safe environment for problem solving new issues and individual professional development.

Tell us about a family’s positive outcomes through working with RFW

I am always impressed when I’ve been working with a family for a period of time and they recognise the progress they’ve made and the skills they now have. It is a bitter-sweet time when you come to the end of a families’ journey with Royal Far West, but it is always an amazing outcome when that child and family recognise they have the confidence to support their child to continue to develop and participate in life. I love seeing families who have practiced their new skills and strategies and understand their child enough to face the road ahead. That is the best outcome, and we know our job is done.

Have you had any particularly unique opportunities or experiences while working at RFW?

Recently, I was incredibly fortunate to be invited to travel to the community of Fitzroy Crossing in the remote Kimberly region by Marninwarntikura Women’s Resource Centre. It was such a unique and amazing experience and reminded me of why I am so driven to work with rural and remote kids and their carers and families. It’s a very special place and it was quite a privilege to experience firsthand how the landscape and nature really informs the community and culture. When you get to visit and immerse yourself in a community, you get the opportunity to understand their priorities and points of view, that can sometimes be difficult to see being outside of that community. It is one of the very unique things about Royal Far West – our community visits inform our practice so that no matter whether you are face-to-face or a hundred miles away on a computer screen, you can put yourself back into that community that you are connecting with.

What’s the best thing about working with families from rural and remote Australia?

There are so many great things about working with children and families from rural and remote Australia, but one of the best things is the opportunity to learn from them. I love what these children share with me about their day to day lives that they think is completely normal, but to me is just incredible. I’ve had children teach me how to catch a goanna, and the best places to fish for yellow-bellies! They continually come out with the most interesting things, that as a city-dweller, I rarely have exposure to.

What makes working with kids so satisfying to you?

I love seeing children become so immersed in play activities that they don’t realise they’re working on their skills development. This week, I had a child say to me “you have the best job because you just get to do colouring in and playing games all day”. It makes me so happy when a child is feeling like they are so engaged and enjoying the session thinking they are just “playing” when they are actually developing their self-confidence, independence and skills for life. It makes my job very satisfying.

For anyone considering a career as a Speech Pathologist, what qualities do you think they need?

When I reflect upon the qualities of some of the wonderful speech pathologists that I’ve worked alongside, I would have to say that being curious about people and cultures, being a good listener and communicator, and patience are all important qualities to have.