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Early therapy can alter child brain function: OT workshops


Anne-Louise Brown
3 February 2015

Early therapy intervention for children identified as developmentally challenged can alter their brain function and the course of their lives, says Southern Cross University researcher Beth Mozolic-Staunton.

As part of her research Ms Mozolic-Staunton – an occupational therapy lecturer and PhD student from the School of Health and Human Sciences – has organised Right Kids, Right Time, Right Services workshops on February 5 and 6 at the University’s Lismore and Gold Coast campuses.

The workshops will be attended by more than 220 local early childhood educators and health professionals, who will learn how to identify at-risk children earlier.

“Often kids are identified with developmental challenges just before they go to school, between four and six years of age, and the evidence says kids can actually be identified closer to two years of age, so there’s a research-to-practice gap happening,” Ms Mozolic-Staunton said.

“What we’re trying to do is bridge that gap and bring the latest research and tools to people who are on the ground working with these kids and their families every day.

“We want to identify which kids have problems with communication, social skills, attention, social and emotional development and motor skills.”

It is hoped those who attend the workshops will return to the community and, with the tools they have gained, identify at-risk children. These kids will then be offered free developmental comprehensive assessments by Southern Cross University occupational therapists.

“One of the real benefits to the children, their families and educators is that they can bypass waiting lists and makes sure those kids identified get connected with early intervention services almost immediately.

“There’s been a lot of research around brain plasticity and that you can actually make changes in young children’s brain and change their development trajectories if their early experiences are modified. So changing the way people interact with those children and the opportunities presented to them early on can actually change their development trajectories.

“Occupational therapists work with affected children, their families, in communities, in homes, in education systems and in health systems to look at how those children are participating, their communication, their play skills, their relationships and their general development and we can target individualised interventions to them in any of those areas. The approach has to be holistic.”

The workshops will be presented by La Trobe University’s Dr Josephine Barbaro, an expert in prospective identification of autistic spectrum disorders in infancy and toddlerhood with a special interest in the education of primary health care professionals about these signs and early diagnosis. They are funded by the Cooperative Research Centre for Living with Autism Spectrum Disorders.

The Lismore workshop will be held on Thursday 5 February from 4-7.30pm and the Gold Coast workshops will be held on Friday 6 February at 9am-12.30pm and 2-5.30pm.

Go to the Right Kids, Right Time, Right Services website for more information about the workshops.

Photo: Southern Cross University researcher Beth Mozolic-Staunton