Learning to ride a bike is a rite of passage for most children. But not for all. For one small boy, the bicycle had become a two-wheeled torture device, a source of frustration and anxiety instead of joy. It took six months of therapy and intervention with Southern Cross University graduate and occupational therapist Emma Hoare before he could even look at it, let alone get on it. It took even longer before he learnt the underlying skills he needed to feel empowered and to control his feelings so he could make those first wobbly metres on his own. Now, thanks to Emma, he is riding to school with his siblings, just like any other boy on his street.
Emma works for Empowered Kids, a Gold Coast-based consultancy owned by fellow Southern Cross University alumnus Kristy Harris. The consultancy specialises in providing paediatric occupational therapy services.
Emma’s typical work day can include helping children to confront their food phobias or overcome a fear of failure for a task as simple as riding a bike or even to learn how to interact with others at kindergarten by ‘thinking with their eyes’ and responding to emotional cues. “There is no such thing as a typical intervention. Children are complex beings. We take a holistic view of every child because every child is going to be different,” she says.
After finishing high school on the Gold Coast, Emma worked in real estate for a year before switching to studies in nutrition and although she enjoyed working in health, she was searching for something more. With girlfriends studying occupational therapy, Emma was encouraged to try the course at Southern Cross. “In the OT course I felt like everything we did had a point and a purpose which is perfect for me because I need to know why I am doing something.”
As she moved through the course, paediatrics became her clear calling. “When I was at uni, if we could choose a case study I would always choose the paediatric one, even for my Honours project. There was so much that spoke to me – the Nurtured Heart approach that reinforces positive behaviours for example. Now I’m specialising in food therapy, developing school skills, building a growth mindset and self-confidence, and developing strategies to support sensory processing challenges. No two days are the same – it’s exhausting sometimes but deeply, deeply satisfying work.”
Even on her initial placement with Empowered Kids, “Emma was very driven and organised,” says Empowered Kids owner Kristy. “She would check in with us all the time until we were ready to take her on placement and she was so good we offered her a job. Don’t give up or take no for an answer is Emma’s motto!”
Photo: Regi Varghese