Jumping into speech therapy: how moving sessions to Gia’s ‘happy place’ helped her smash her goals

Our Clinicians never hesitate to adapt their therapy – and session location – to help participants reach their goals. For young participant Gia, speech pathologist Natalie Paull decided to move their sessions to the pool – aka Gia’s ‘happy place’ – to help her gain new and vital skills for communicating her thoughts and feelings.

“Gia’s level 3 autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and co-occurring diagnoses of severe expressive and receptive language disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and abdominal pain present her with significant challenges across all areas of daily living and she is dependent on her family and support workers for all daily activities, including eating, drinking, showering and toileting,” says Natalie.

Gia is non-speaking and before starting her sessions with Natalie relied on her formal and informal supports to interpret her body language, facial expressions, and vocalisations to have her needs and wants met.

Another challenge was Gia’s bouts of negative behaviour. “Gia can become aggressive due to pain associated with cramping, muscle issues, and being unable to effectively communicate what she needs, where she is experiencing pain, and what she would like to do,” explains Natalie.

Gia’s goals

Gia’s 12-month NDIS plan’s goals are to increase her ability to communicate her wants, needs, thoughts and feelings and grow her capacity to ask when she needs help or wants an activity to continue or stop through a communication method of her choice.

Natalie also supported Gia to be as regulated as possible during her speech pathology sessions, so she could attend to activities that model language through both low and high-tech augmentative and alternative communication (ACC).

Taking to the water to regulate and learn

As Gia is most regulated when she is in the water – her ‘happy place’ – Natalie held play sessions in her pool, introducing low-tech ACC first in the form of water-proof laminated language boards to model language.

“I would point to each language icon and say the word or words of that icon. For example, I’d point to the ‘I like’ icon and say “I like swimming Gia”, or point to the ‘more’ icon and say “I think you want more splashing”,” explains Natalie.

Fast lane to smashing goals

In just a few months, Gia built a strong rapport with Natalie, often leading her by the hand to indicate what she would like to do next. Gia’s progress was also helped by having her old high-tech ACC device replaced with a new one that is set up to meet her needs more effectively.

“Gia now communicates ‘more’ by pointing to her low-tech ACC visuals and has jumped in the pool to regulate to then attend modelling and prompting of AAC with me for an extended period of time, as her body feels more able to engage,” explains Natalie.

“Working with Gia is so much fun. She is an affectionate little girl with big ideas and interests. It is an incredibly rewarding experience to be able to open up the world for her through communication and play, and it’s gratifying to be a part of a team who advocates for her and her needs because I know we are going to achieve great things for her!”

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