The Ins and Outs of Therapy Supports
Teamwork makes the dream work. For children with disability, that team may include Therapists, Therapy Assistants, and Support Workers alongside your family, school and social networks.
This article takes you through the ins and outs of Therapy Supports. It covers what they do, how your family can use them, and where to find and fund them.
What is therapy support?
Therapy Support is engaging an individual to help your child work towards their therapy goals. This could be a Therapy Assistant or a Support Worker. A Therapy Assistant or Support Worker helps children practice and get better at the skills they learn during therapy.
They work with children in places outside the therapy session, such as home, school and preschool.
They ‘bridge the gap’ between formal therapy sessions and real life by assisting the child in practising and mastering the skills taught in clinical sessions.
What is the difference between a Therapist, Therapy Assistant and Support Worker?
It’s helpful to understand the different roles of each member of a therapy team:
Therapists or Allied Health Professionals:
Therapists are university-trained professionals that have specific high-level skills in their discipline area. They include (but aren’t limited to) physiotherapists, occupational therapists, speech pathologists, dieticians and psychologists.
The Therapist’s role is to assess, diagnose, treat, and make therapy plans for children with developmental disorders, disabilities or medical needs.
Therapy Assistants are allied health assistants usually working under the supervision and guidance of a Therapist.
The Therapy Assistant’s role is to support Therapists in the delivery of therapy plans. They are often studying to become a Therapist and can work somewhat independently to help boost a child’s goals. A Therapy Assistant is usually covered by the professional indemnity insurance of the supervising therapist’s or therapy assistant’s employing provider.
Support Workers also assist children in reaching their therapy goals. The term ‘Support Worker’ covers a wide range of workers with different roles and responsibilities, all of which include supporting children with their daily care and/or activities. The Support Worker’s role can include anything from helping with skills development, community participation, social and leisure activities, transport, or assistance with daily tasks. Support Workers generally have no formal registration requirements, and it is not compulsory for them to hold indemnity insurance.
What are thebenefits of a Therapy Assistant and Support Worker?
They are cheaper than therapists, so your child’s therapy budget can go further. A Therapy Assistant or Support Worker can be especially helpful when you have limited funding, or your child needs more intensive support.
They free up your time
By hiring a Therapy Assistant or Support Worker to help your child with their home program, you can have more time for work, household tasks or spending time with your other children.
Your child may enjoy the point of difference
Some children may behave better and work harder with a Therapy Assistant or Support Worker than with their own parent or carer.
Provides a range of environments to learn in
A Therapy Assistant or Support Worker gives children real-world opportunities to practice their new skills.
How do families make use of Therapy Assistants and Support Workers?
There’s a very wide range of ways to use Therapy Assistants and Support Workers, from having them come to your home to practice therapy ‘homework’ to:
Visiting your child at preschool or school
- This provides one on one support to help with participation and socialising.
- For instance, many families bring a Therapy Assistant or Support Worker in at lunchtime to help facilitate friendships with other children.
Guiding your child at home
- To help them practice and master their daily living skills.
- For example, families often make use of Therapy Assistants and Support Workers to help their child gain independence in their morning and evening routines.
Engaging in purposeful play in a variety of settings
- So that your child gets specific practice to reach their communication, mental and physical goals.
- Having a Therapy Assistant or Support Worker come in to practice speech skills while playing outside is a great example of how Therapy Supports are often used.
Providing individualised learning support
- Build the capacity of your child’s educators to support your child’s participation in the classroom.
- Model strategies that supports your child’s independence in the classroom routine.
- Or at after-school care, to facilitate friendships and show the carers strategies that support your child’s inclusion.
Taking your child out into the community
- To help your child practice skills, join play dates and more.
- For example, when your child wants some independence from you but still requires support, a Therapy Assistant or Support Worker can assist instead.
Does the NDIS (National Disability Insurance Scheme) pay for Therapy Support?
Yes. It will depend on your child’s specific plan inclusions, so always check your plan before you hire someone.
Some families use funding from their core support budget, while others use funds from capacity building.
A great resource for checking how your Therapy Supports meet the NDIS guidelines can be found here.
If you don’t have NDIS funding, information about applying for funding can be found here.
How do you find a Therapy Assistant or Support Worker?
A good starting point is to think about who will best assist your child with their therapy goals. For example, it could be a teacher, a sports coach, or a student studying to be a therapist. There’s a very broad scope of who can be hired, as long as they help meet therapy goals. Being resourceful is key.
Some ways to find Therapy Support include:
- Recommendations from your child’s therapists
- Putting a notice on a community noticeboard
- Online Facebook groups for children with disability
- Word of mouth from other families
- Contact local universities to find students studying to become therapists
- Visit websites dedicated to providing Allied Health support, such as HireUp or Mable
How to find the right Therapy Support for your family
Feeling empowered is genuinely important when seeking a Therapy Assistant or Support Worker. Parents and carers know their children best, so give yourself permission to fulfil your child’s needs as you see fit. You have the right to take initiative and be versatile with your choices. If in doubt, go back to this checklist to see how your choices fit within NDIS guidelines.
Write it Down
This will help you set the tone for who will fit your family best. A good idea is to write down what you really need from your Therapy Assistant or Support Worker (almost like writing a job advertisement):
- Start with some points about your child’s personality and interests.
- Follow up with the type of skills, personality and tasks you need from a Therapy Assistant or Support Worker.
- Determine what days and times work for your family.
- Consider if any specialist skills or medical knowledge/training is required.
We’ve included an example ‘Job Ad’ down below.
Take the time to do interviews and trial sessions with a few different candidates before you decide.
Set clear goals and expectations about the role from the outset and communicate them clearly. Aim to build a positive rapport with your child’s future Therapy Assistant or Support Worker.
Check their insurance and training suit your child’s needs
Ensure the Therapy Assistant or Support Worker has the relevant checks and training to suit your child’s needs.
- This includes an appropriate level of insurance to cover any risks related to the activities they will be doing.
- In addition, your Therapy Assistant or Support Worker should possess a Working with Children Check (WWCC), and potentially First Aid Training.
How to get the best from your Therapy Assistant or Support Worker
Agree in Advance and Provide Feedback
Have a transparent agreement between you, the Therapy Assistant or Support Worker and your child’s Therapist as to each person’s roles and responsibilities within the child’s team. This helps ensure the therapy program is safe, effective and your child gets the most benefit.
Providing genuine feedback means the program can be adjusted as your child meets their goals. It also ensures the funding is used in the most efficient way possible.
Know What You Want
Proactively think about what you truly need from the Therapy Assistant or Support Worker. It’s perfectly reasonable to have expectations and provide guidance.
For example, if they are taking your child into the local community, is it to go to the park to practice on the monkey bars to help them join in at school? Or is it to increase your child’s confidence with getting out and about? Ask questions and be really clear about the goals and outcomes you expect to have met. This will help ensure you are getting the most value from every session.
Make a Plan
Make sure there is a plan for each session. For example, if the Therapy Assistant or Support Worker is coming to your house for two hours, ensure they have goals they are working on, and you/they have planned the activities they are doing.
These session programs might be planned by your Therapist for your Therapy Assistant or Support Worker, or it might be something you prepare based on the therapy ‘homework’ or from your goals. Decide in advance who is doing this for each session.
Create an ‘All About Me’ document
Creating an ‘All About Me’ document can help the Therapy Assistant or Support Worker to engage with your child. It is a one-page introduction to your child that outlines your child’s likes, dislikes, and best ways to communicate with your child. Learn how to create one here.
Attend Therapy Sessions
Organise for your Therapy Assistant or Support Worker to attend therapy sessions. This will ensure they understand the purpose of the activities and have the skills to perform them with your child. It also helps open up communication between the team, which benefits everyone, most of all your child. If they can’t attend a session, you could record parts of the session to show them.
For more information about Therapy Assistants and Support Workers, watch or listen to Kindred’s Panel discussion: Therapy Assistants – The Ins and Outs.