Giving Cairns kids first dibs on speech pathology

Written By

Nicolette Ward


College of Healthcare Sciences

Publish Date

18 July 2022

Related Study Areas

Early intervention is key

Having seen the benefits first-hand of early intervention speech pathology therapies on young children, JCU Alumni Grace Munro and Rachael Di Bella decided it was time to take the plunge and set up their own paediatric speech therapy clinic in Cairns, specifically for children aged 0 to 12 years old.

Grace: We knew that many families in the Cairns region were on waitlists for up to six months to get speech therapy for their young children, and that there would be a strong demand for our clinic’s specialised age group. We opened our clinic, Small Sprouts Therapy, last year and it's been really exciting to bring together all of our experiences and create a service that we hope can meet the needs of young children in the Cairns region.

Rachael: We really wanted to focus on early intervention approaches as that’s what we are most passionate about. Evidence shows that working with children in their early years provides the greatest opportunity for making an impact on their overall development and achieving social and academic success at school.

JCU Alumni Grace Munro and Rachael Di Bella

Experience has no substitute

Before joining forces to open their own practice, both Grace and Rachael had an assortment of previous experiences from which to build on.

Grace: My first job after graduating from JCU was as a speech pathologist working across the education system in Cairns. I worked with children with a vast range of abilities and developed a keen interest in the use of Alternative and Augmentative Communication (AAC) systems to help some of the children to communicate more effectively. Augmentative communication involves incorporating multiple means of speech. AAC systems basically consist of utilising all of the ways that someone communicates besides talking, such as using gestures and facial expressions, writing, drawing, and pointing to photos and pictures. We can also use apps that generate speech to assist with this.

I then worked in a non-clinical role as an Early Childhood Early Intervention Coordinator for the NDIS (National Disability Insurance Scheme) in Cairns, working with families to identify all of the supports they needed to meet their child’s physical, social, cognitive and communication development needs. I had the opportunity to work with families from a range of cultural and linguistic backgrounds across the region including Mareeba, Atherton, Mossman, Port Douglas and Yarrabah, and regularly liaised with a range of allied health and medical professionals.

Rachael: After graduating from JCU in 2015, I also worked as a speech pathologist in education. I found the most rewarding part of the job was building rapport and relationships with the children, identifying their needs and creating a plan to meet their developmental goals. I then realised I wanted to have more of a therapy role and so I started working at a private speech pathology clinic.

I knew I definitely wanted to be helping children. I had some standout placement experiences working with children as a JCU student, including a placement at the Queensland Children's Hospital in Brisbane. It was such an incredible experience, and I learnt a lot about therapies for cleft palate and also for hearing impaired children who were being fitted with cochlear implants, which is an area of speech pathology that not many people are aware of.

Grace and Rachael with charity cupcakes.
Grace blowing bubbles for the kids.
Grace and Rachel love to create a fun environment for the children they work with. (Images supplied by interviewees.)

Prioritising collaboration

Working collaboratively with other allied health professionals is an important aspect to the work that Grace and Rachael do.

Grace: We often deliver our therapies as part of a multi-disciplinary team that can include Occupational Therapists, Physiotherapists, Psychologists, Paediatricians and Audiologists. Sometimes we might do combined sessions with other therapists, which I really enjoy, as you learn how to integrate other skills into your speech therapy sessions when needed.

For example, I might need to include fine motor skills during my therapy sessions or have the skills ready to help a child regulate their emotions and/or senses, which is especially important for some children with autism.

High demand & high reward

With employability for speech pathologists in Australia now being at an all-time high, Rachael and Grace are keen to spruik the rewarding nature of the work they do as speech pathologists to anyone who might be considering a health-related career.

Rachael: There's just such a demand for speech pathology in Cairns and we'd really love to be able to fill that gap. We recently employed three additional therapists and increased our capacity to offer more telehealth services to rural and remote areas.

I love that even in my role working solely with young children, every day is so different. I may start my day supporting a little one with their language difficulties, followed by working on literacy skills or assessing swallowing and feeding skills. I just love seeing those small steps in progress that you get from working with a child over time and being able to adapt your therapy sessions according to what the child may need.

Grace: I love being a speech pathologist for so many reasons. Every day is a new kind of challenge, requiring a mix of compassion, imagination, critical thinking and problem-solving. There’s just so much variety to the work you can do, working with people from across the lifespan, from new-born babies to the elderly recovering from a stroke, for example.

You can work in hospitals, in schools, in aged care facilities, in correctional facilities, provide generalist outreach services, or work in a private clinic. The work you do really can change lives. Communication is a fundamental human right and being able to help other people from all walks of life to be able to communicate is just so rewarding.

If you think a career in speech pathology could be for you, read the stories of Talk HQ Co-Founder, Jenna Mottin, or Alumni Emma Trimble’s work as a regional resource speech pathologist to learn more about what speech pathology could hold for you.

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