“…a centre, with music therapy, hydrotherapy, soft play for children with disabilities. I will be the physiotherapist and each child will have the opportunity to do all these wonderful things, always”
I was just sixteen years old when I had this conversation with Bob. The seed for ‘I Am Me’ was planted long before I had even achieved my place to study Physiotherapy at university. Bob was the Headmaster at Fordwater Special School. His team welcomed me each week for two years as a volunteer. I had very little experience with children in general and no experience with children with additional needs. I had entered a whole new world, one that, unbeknown to me, would become such a strong influence on my own development and also provide the focus for my career ahead. I went on school trips, was always a part of the school plays, joined hydrotherapy sessions, music classes and sensory classes for children with multi-sensory impairments. But above all, I played, supported and had such fun with so many children living with severe and complex learning difficulties. Each and every child challenged and helped me grow in ways I had never considered just two years previously. I experienced new ways of thinking, new ways of living and I learned that barriers to inclusion have no place.
Within months of becoming part of the Fordwater family, the opportunity to volunteer with a local charity providing respite care for children living with disabilities opened. I volunteered for a year before becoming a playworker at Saturday clubs and summer playschemes. The opportunity for all children, and their siblings, to engage in a huge range of play and social activities was created. The can-do mindset never wavered, and we worked to ensure that each child was included and supported to do the activities that they wanted to do. No child was left to just watch another.
Alongside this voluntary and charity work, I became a sessional worker, and was fortunate to build relationships with several children with differing needs within their most private place, their home, and within their most intimate unit, their family. I experienced the daily reality of the complexities of disability and, in the majority of cases, the families’ need to adjust to these as well as the often-unspoken fears and emotions around social difficulties.
In 2007, I graduated from University of the West of England with a first-class honours degree in Physiotherapy. Relocating to Hull for my first physiotherapy post allowed me to complete eighteen months in acute adult care, before embarking on my career in paediatrics in 2009.
I have worked as a paediatric physiotherapist in four NHS trusts. My goal has been to create new opportunities to work in different environments, enriching my experience with so many different children, whilst being taught by some of the most influential people within the field. Each person has played such an integral part in influencing my practice and the therapist I am today.
Having been largely community based in my early paediatric career, I moved into the acute care setting before accepting a senior post at Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children. Being offered my first post there is one of my most treasured moments. I spent four years working in Rheumatology, Cardiac Intensive Care and the Cystic Fibrosis service, Orthopaedics, Oncology and BMT, Neuromuscular and the Selective Dorsal Rhizotomy service. For me, this was my opportunity to spend quality time within each speciality, building a plethora of specialist knowledge.
The Osteogenesis Imperfecta service needed a physiotherapist to manage the service for fixed term cover. Accepting the offer for this seconded role has been the pinnacle of my career so far. Working in such a specialised service allowed more creativity in my therapy provision. Due to the nature of the condition, and the severity, with which some children were living, I had to problem solve and adapt constantly to enable each and every child the opportunity to reach their potential. I worked independently and as part of the therapy team to overcome barriers to participation, but also to work closely with a number of families, who were able to share their fears surrounding their child’s condition. To have been key in the successful engagement of these families, being trusted by them and therefore opening new doors for them, was a privilege. To challenge barriers that influenced the lives of these fragile children, enabling a more active and fulfilled life for both them and their families, has fuelled my desire to implement this approach more widely now.
In 2016, I started my own family and had my first child, Jack. We decided that it was the right time to move away from London in search of a better work-life balance. We have now lived in South Gloucestershire for almost four years. We have since welcomed our second little boy, Finn, into our family.
Since relocating, I have worked as a senior physiotherapist at the Bristol Royal Hospital for Children. My most recent post has been leading the paediatric Neuromuscular physiotherapy service.
I have a lot to be thankful to the NHS for. It has provided me with so many opportunities to meet and work with the most incredible children and families. Each one on their own unique journey. But, it has uncovered the difficulties to me that these children and their families face in accessing therapy provision in a way that truly facilitates participation and inclusivity in today’s world. This has repeatedly left me yearning to take a different approach to achieve this, but being bound by time and financial constraints of the organisation. I believe that a child, as they grow, and face new challenges, should be able to access timely intervention without being prioritised on waiting lists or needing to fit organisational criteria. So many families spend precious time chasing services and fighting for their children. This takes time and energy away from the family unit. Time and energy that should be spent living and accessing wonderful opportunities.
I want to enable families to have the readily available support that is needed to optimise their child’s potential and ease the worry and pressure – one family needing to fight these battles is too many for me. My vision is to provide therapy to the child in their home, school, hospice or extra-curricular activity settings – wherever it is needed. I intend for this provision to be supportive to statutory services that are already in place and to ease some of the pressure on therapy services. As well as meeting existing therapy needs, I want to be proactive in meeting the emerging therapy needs that are arising as more children benefit from advances in medical treatments as they are offered. Let’s make a change alongside the fantastic medical breakthroughs that are giving renewed hope for longer, more fulfilled lives. Together we can enable children to participate and enjoy increased opportunities, while supporting and truly bettering their lives, as well as the lives of their families.
I pride myself on my appreciation of the complexities of disability and the families’ need to adjust to these as well as the often unspoken fears and emotions around social difficulties. This unique and precious insight into their vulnerability enables me, as the therapist I am today, to be holistic in my approach, considerate, open and respectful in my support and guidance through both the child’s, and their family’s, ever changing journey. I recognise and appreciate that some problems may not be as easy as others to manage for a variety of reasons. Despite this, my commitment and deep seated willingness to enable a child to achieve their optimal potential drives my determination to now grow the seed that was planted all of those years ago, I Am Me.