Looking at 2017, many changes and developments followed just as many challenges and accomplishments. Ability Therapy Specialists (ATS) had its first year in full time practice. We have growth to include two practitioners, one full time, the other engaged part time. Our clients come from privately paid requests, government paid services under the NDIS, corporate and training clients, and educational and tutoring needs.

During 2017, the majority of clients came via the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS). These people asked for help with Behaviour Support, Counselling Therapies, and associated Clinical Assessments and Reports. We found by end of year that we were providing a wide range of clinical assessments, with new requests to engage the Adaptive Behaviour Assessment System 3 (ABAS 3) as well as other psychometric and educationalist assessments.

Clients used their assessments for a wide range of purposes. Some needed reports to share with Psychiatrists or Clinical Psychologists to assist with case reviews and planning, others needed reports for helping to evaluate what funding was more necessary and relevant to their needs under the NDIS Plan Review process, and other clients were seeking evaluations to share with primary care providers like Paediatricians for the purposes of diagnosis and/or to help with school/educational programs.

Our work during 2017 focused on Armidale and regional New England. Being based in Armidale we are slowly becoming known by families in the area, and word of mouth is always the best. We work with people of all ages, including children, individuals, parents, couples, families, schools, agencies, and NGOs. Much of our work with disability agencies and schools actually goes back many years within our specialist educational, therapeutic, and disability work – and we are excited to re-engage under this new and independent service.

We fairly quickly expanded beyond Armidale by offering a fortnightly day clinic in Inverell, hosted at Individual Ability Supports (IAS) across from the Inverell High School. The clinic had great success and many clients will be returning during 2018 to continue their awesome projects. The clinics run on the Monday beginning 22 January, but are by appointment only. No drop-ins please. Clients book in a month before usually, and each client tends to have at least an hour to engage in therapy activities. A sense of community is growing and participants do tend to visit with each other in a common room and have a cuppa at some point during the day. Contact for the clinic is via Dr Bowers (see this site’s Contact page), or IAS Inverell (see phone directory).

We were also excited to offer tailor made education and training for NGO staff during 2017, having designed modules in disability behaviour support and in trauma informed disability practice. Major shifts away from block funding create challenges for NGOs to find funding to pay for staff training and development. On behalf of clients we are grateful for those exceptional managers and team leaders who have taken the additional time necessary to find options during this transition.

The year also saw us using Skype for client meetings via distance. This had great success for certain client’s needs, and was useful for staff at regional NGOs. Using video/audio technology allowed these individuals to feel important, to gain better use of therapy and consultation services, and to save heaps of money that would otherwise go to travel time and costs. We hope to see greater interest by New England residents in 2018, as this form of working really does make a lot of sense for people who can communicate via this method.

Our geographic footprint seems to be in-flux given the only two year roll out of the NDIS in New England, and only first year roll out in Coffs Harbour and surrounding locations up to Dorrigo in the mountains, and along the coast north and south of Coffs. This being said, during 2017 we have calls from Coffs in the East to Moree in the West, and from Tenterfield in the North, and from Quirindi in the South and Gunnnedah in the South West.

Travel is an issue cost-wise given already inadequate funding packages under the specific line items that we can use, with inflexible terms for participant use of core funding allocations. But we have found a few work arounds for these issues. For one, we created a regional clinic out of Inverell which may assist people from Moree up to Tenterfield if they are able to travel to Inverell. We have also tended to provide significant discounts for travel costs where participant needs warrant and we were able to assist.

All up 2017 was an eventful and memorable year, with many amazing gifted people crossing our paths. We are inspired and encouraged. We wish everyone a peace-filled and healing 2018 for personal growth, and for family and friends.

Dr Joseph Bowers and Dr Dwayne Kennedy

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