Helping Lani to find her voice
When three year old Lani first came to Windermere she was so anxious she would rarely speak to people other than her family members.
Lani has autism and Selective Mutism, a severe social anxiety that prevents her from speaking, particularly in unfamiliar settings. This significantly impacted on her social interactions and made it incredibly difficult for others to understand her needs and wants.
Lani’s mother, Kristy, approached Warragul-based Windermere for Occupational Therapy services to support Lani’s fine and gross motor skills and complement Speech Therapy services she was already receiving.
“Initially we thought Lani would need to have therapy sessions in our home as she just wouldn’t cope with going somewhere unfamiliar and talking to someone she didn’t know” said Kristy.
Much to Kristy’s surprise Lani appeared to be comfortable right from the first time she met Occupational Therapist Ricky at her office. “Ricky seems to have a special touch when connecting with children,” says Kristy.
To minimise Lani’s anxiety Ricky slowed down the pace of the regular fortnightly sessions and ensured there was a familiar routine. This successfully allowed Ricky and Lani to build a relationship that met Lani and her family’s needs.
Ricky continued to build Lani’s trust and removed some of her anxiety by introducing a choice board which allowed her to communicate non-verbally. “We removed a lot of the stress for her and at the same time empowered her to communicate with me by letting her know it was OK to suggest she wanted to play a game by pointing or nodding her head in agreement,” she says.
In her sessions Ricky uses familiar mediums to vary and build Lani’s skills. For example, one day she might use play doh for tactile play and another day to create characters for a story.
“We’re working on developing Lani’s independence and communication skills,” says Ricky. This includes using Lani’s sensory preferences and visual schedules to support her participation at home and in day care environments. To foster this, Ricky has used games that introduce different sensory experiences and also promote fine and gross motor skills. “We use a variety of activities such as peg board games, doing animal walks, throwing and catching,” says Ricky.
The sessions also allow Lani’s mum Kristy to learn additional skills to support Lani’s needs.
Kristy says Lani’s progress since commencing has been very positive. She is starting to communicate with gesturing, pointing and nodding. At day care Lani now participates in group discussions and also interacts with people when they are out and about. “There are people who would talk to her every day on the school run, and she would never give them a response. All of sudden she is suddenly able to reply to them,” says Kristy.
“It’s slow steps but she’s definitely happier and more comfortable. She makes better eye contact and is better able to let us know how she’s feeling.”
“We’re really happy with Ricky, She’s done everything she can to help us,” says Kristy.