Published Nov 20, 2019
Helping young children and families living with autism is not something that people might readily associate with Viclink, yet it’s all in a day’s work for the team, as Gary Ward, Viclink’s General Manager, Knowledge Services, explains.
“Viclink has come a long way from the perception that we only focus on creating ‘tech start-ups,’ he says. “The opportunities and ways in which researchers aspire to—and can—achieve impact from their work is increasingly varied, so we offer a wide range of support services that extend across all faculties and their communities.”
Gary says that includes supporting researchers at the Victoria University of Wellington Autism Clinic to extend the reach of their vital work.
The clinic was established in partnership with the Autism Intervention Trust to connect research into early intervention therapies with the families and communities who can benefit from it—more than 50 families this year alone (up from 30 last year).
Dr Hannah Waddington, the clinic lead, says they adopted a play-based behavioural therapy programme known as the Early Start Denver Model (ESDM), and made it available to families who were also happy to be part of the research to evaluate its effectiveness. However, she says charitable funding only covered one term of the programme for each family.
“ESDM is a very promising programme—studies suggest that it accelerates learning and skill development for kids on the autism spectrum—so families were keen to continue with it,” says Hannah, who is also a School of Education lecturer in educational psychology. “Parents told us they found the ESDM therapies and parent-coaching playgroups to be invaluable in helping their children to develop engagement, communication and social skills. They wanted more, and were willing to pay for it if we could keep the costs at a reasonable level.”
Lauren van Noorden, one of the four certified ESDM therapists in the clinic, was particularly interested in meeting this obvious need, but was unsure how to set up a fees-based service. So she searched for help on the University intranet and found Viclink—and Gary.
“Gary helped us to set up a fee-for-service based system that’s enabled us to keep delivering a range of therapy services to the families who need them—at a price that enables us to cover our costs but is still affordable,” says Lauren. “We’ve got 15 families paying for our services at the moment and we really don’t want to charge them a cent more than we have to.”
Those services—which are delivered by the team of experienced and certified ESDM therapists—could be one-on-one sessions or comprehensive packages that include parent coaching, and kindy or preschool visits.
“We simply didn’t have the knowledge or time to set this up on our own,” says Hannah. “Viclink take care of the ‘business’ side of things for us—they make the payments to our therapists and invoice the parents; they even helped us to develop a business plan. I can honestly say we could not have done this without Gary and the team at Viclink.”
Hannah, who become New Zealand’s first certified ESDM therapist while studying for her PhD at Victoria University of Wellington, grew up with two cousins who have autism—giving her the initial impetus to train as an educational psychologist.
She says that seeing first-hand the difference that the programme can make for young children makes it hugely gratifying work.
“We’ve had feedback from parents saying that it’s the best thing they’ve ever done for their child,” says Hannah. “So we’re beyond thrilled that Viclink has enabled us to keep offering the programme to families after that first, funded term ends.”
Gary says it’s a pretty special project to be involved with. “Hannah, Lauren and the team have been really great to work with. Helping them to build and deliver a model that’s sustainable for both the clinic and the families—which ultimately contributes to research directly helping children to thrive and grow—is a great reason to come to work in the morning.”