TeamConnect – enhance your child’s therapy outcomes – Amanda Abel, Paediatric Psychologist

My role as a peadiatric psychologist is really varied but one consistent theme I hear from parents is that trying to manage the various supports, therapies, interventions and medical treatments is akin to high level project management. With the most important client – their child!

Most children I work with, particularly those with a diagnosis of ASD, will also have a speech pathologist, occupational therapist, paediatrician, GP, and some form of educator in their lives. And then for the kiddos engaged in a formal early intervention program like Applied Behaviour Analysis, you can add a few more therapists and an ABA program supervisor to that list. That’s without considering music therapists, art therapists, gym instructors or swimming teachers! Each and every one of these individuals involved in the child’s life has a very important message and part to play in their outcomes. The only trouble is that it gets diluted and lost along the way if a coherent approach isn’t used. And dilution equals time and money down the drain.

‘What is a coherent approach?’ I hear you ask. That’s when all the professionals involved in the child’s support team are on the same page. Talking the same lingo. Respectful and understanding of each others’ involvement. If the speech therapist is using a makaton sign to aide communication but the psychologist is using a visual prompt/picture, we run the risk of a confused littlie, and progress slows down. If only the psychologist knew that the speechie was using the sign and not the picture…I could go on and on with examples but I think you get the point! We can’t put the pressure on parents to communicate all of this to each person involved.

This is why at Northern Centre for Child Development we have just launched our new service TeamConnect which was developed to enhance the intervention outcomes for children with additional needs by optimising communication between the family and the professionals involved. Each term we meet either in person or via virtual means (yep, totally tech savvy!) to get an update about the child’s progress, set clear goals, and confirm the strategies and language for use to enhance the intervention outcomes. Normally the factor that puts everyone off something like this is the organisation involved! Finding a time for 4+ people to meet when most of us work part time can be hugely challenging. Luckily as a part of the package, we take care of all of the organisation, plus provide a summary of the meeting to the relevant people.

Parents of children with ASD spend on average $30,000 to $50,000 per year on early intervention. The return on this investment can be increased by booking TeamConnect meetings to encourage:

  • Keeping language consistent between disciplines and interventions
  • Ensuring the child isn’t pulled in different directions
  • Reducing the child’s anxiety
  • Increasing the child’s performance by having a consistent approach
  • Stopping parents being the messenger for their child
  • Alleviating pressure on parents

Contact us for more info about TeamConnect -we’d love to make it work for you!


Streamlined ASD Assessments now at NCCD!

Some people might find my passion for conducting Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) assessments a bit unusual or odd. But in all honesty, it really is a part of my job that I adore. It’s a very raw experience for families and while it’s one of high emotion at times, I’m aware of my privilege in working with families at this ‘crossroads’ in their life. I also get to utilise the skills I’ve honed over a good 16 years of working closely with children with ASD!

This is why I’m delighted that at the Northern Centre for Child Development, we can now offer the entire ASD assessment process under the one roof. This not only makes it a streamlined, less stressful experience for families (with less of the old regurgitation of their story!), it also makes our job as the professionals involved a lot easier. Not to mention faster!

Dr Daniel Golshevsky, paediatrician, has joined our team to offer general paediatrics as well as the initial and final appointments in the ASD assessment process. This means that families can get straight in to see Dr Golshevsky, obtain a HCWA referral for Medicare rebates, complete the required psychological and speech pathology assessments within the month at the same clinic, and then have the potential diagnosis formalised when they next see Dr Golshevsky.

We pride ourselves on our high level of experience and competency in our ‘gold standard’ ASD assessment process, and included in the fees are a feedback session and a one-month check-in with the parents to check up on how they’re processing the diagnosis.

So get in touch if you’d like more info about the ASD assessment process, and if you want to know more about Dr Daniel Golshevsky, here’s a snippet:

dr-daniel-golshevsky-general-paediatrician-156 (002)Dr Daniel Golshevsky specialises in children’s acute and chronic medical conditions from birth to 18 years, with particular interests in neuro-developmental problems, autism spectrum disorder, newborns & unsettled babies, toileting problems, as well as sleep & behaviour issues. Daniel works as part of the multi-disciplinary autism assessment team at Monash Children’s Hospital. Practicing holistic care with a family-centred approach, he believes that every child needs a management plan that is tailored to them, within their psycho-social environment. Daniel also has a strong interest in the media and its positive and negative effects on children’s health, recently publishing on the effects of screen time on sleep and weight in children. Known in the media as Dr Golly, he appears regularly on Channel Seven’s Good Friday Appeal as well as other television and print features.

Daniel is an experienced General Paediatrician, who trained at The University of Melbourne and The Royal Children’s Hospital (RCH). Daniel has worked at RCH since 2009 and has three young children of his own. He is the former Chief Resident Medical Officer of RCH and is involved in the creation and maintenance of the RCH Clinical Practice Guidelines, an online paediatric resource used internationally. He is also a regular expert reviewer for the Raising Children Network website.


Amanda Abel, paediatric psychologist.





Christmas and the Autism Spectrum – how to enjoy it! Amanda Abel, Paediatric Psychologist

All kiddos are different, and whether or not your littlie has additional needs of the diagnosed variety, or just has his or her own special quirks, you may have mixed feelings about the upcoming festivities! Try some of these ideas:

  • Ditch tradition if it doesn’t work for your family. If anxieties are triggered by decorations around the house, the thought of a strange man (Santa!) heading down the chimney, the sound of Christmas crackers, or the smell of a real tree – consider adapting your style.
  • If your child struggles with the anticipation or unknown associated with wrapped gifts, don’t wrap them. You could even have toys already set up with batteries etc., to avoid extra anxiety and waiting on Christmas morning.
  • Consider how sleep patterns can be impacted with social events. Say ‘no’ if it’s getting too much for your children (which of course impacts you as parents because tired, grumpy kiddos equals grumpy parents!). Be firm with your boundaries and accept that some family members or friends will not understand how much a late night can negatively impact your family functioning.
  • Give yourself permission to do things your way. If this means only staying for one hour at Christmas lunch at grandmas, then so be it. One ‘good’ hour is better than a day that turns into a downward spiral of over-stimulation, tiredness and way too many sugary treats!
  • Decreased routine means you need to increase structure. This might look like visual schedules, reminders about rules, reward charts and stick to the rituals that comfort your child (i.e. keep your nighttime routine even if you’re sleeping over at auntie’s house; keep your mealtimes regular etc).
  • Be prepared when going out and about as things tend to take longer at this time of year – carry some sensory toys or download some apps on your phone to keep the kids entertained. Planning to prevent boredom will decrease challenging behaviours.
  • Plan for rest. Rest before you go out for an overstimulating event and plan for some winding down time when you get home. Don’t expect your child to be able to go straight from driving around looking at Christmas lights to coming home and tucking himself into bed.

Please take some time over the next week or so to consider what is ‘painful’ for your family over Christmas. Isolate these areas (maybe its the wrapped presents, or lack of presents for non-Christmas celebrators, bright lights on the tree, stressed out parents, increased social demands…) and decide how you’re going to manage them. Think outside the square and do what works for your family, not what appears to work for everyone else.


Amanda Abel is a paediatric psychologist with over 16 years’ experience working with children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) and their families. She founded the Northern Centre for Child Development in Preston (Melbourne) and has recruited an exceptional multi-disciplinary team to help improve the quality of life for children with ASD.



My letter to parents of kids with ASD

To the parents of children with ASD,

Over the past 15 or so years I’ve worked with you in various forms. Some of you lap up what I have to say, some of you use my ears for a debrief, and some of you probably get angry with me from time to time because I know as a psychologist what I have to say isn’t always welcomed (don’t worry, I don’t take offense!).

I actually can’t believe how you manage to hold everything together. You turn up for multiple appointments with various professionals each week, you fork out huge quantities of cash, you avoid certain social situations at times, spend countless hours in lines at medicare or on the phone to government departments, you show unconditional love and advocacy for these little beings who may not always show it but will be eternally grateful for your sacrifices. You probably flit between the successes of your child’s development and the gut-wrenching grief of their diagnosis encompassing the unknown for the future and the everyday challenges he or she faces.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I’m so privileged to be involved in your life as one of the professionals in your tribe. I get to see the beautiful connections between you and your kids every day, I get to see the awesomeness that your child has to offer the world today and in the future.

The job of a mum or dad is always a selfless task, but ASD adds another dimension. Did you know that the overall level of family well-being in families of kids with ASD is lower than in other families? It probably won’t come as a surprise to hear that rates of divorce and mental illness are higher in ASD families too. But did you know that the stress and lower levels of well-being in the family can actually reduce the positive effects of therapeutic interventions? So all that money, time and effort could be diluted by the negative impact of parental stress? Awesome! Just what you all want to hear. Add some more pressure Amanda! The good news is that research has shown that brief and targeted interventions to help increase your confidence as a parent in terms of behaviour management, decision making around intervention choices and improving your own well-being can actually improve the early intervention outcomes!

This is why I’ve organised the ASD Parent Retreat at Balgownie Estate Vineyard where we address ways to increase your parenting confidence in the above areas as well as how to look after yourself and just have a really fun day! I want you to know how important you are as a person and to invest in your own health and well-being because it not only improves the quality of your own life, but the outcomes of your child’s therapeutic interventions.

So….to borrow a famed phrase from Molly Meldrum, ‘do yourself a favour’! and get yourself an ‘early bird’ ($190) ticket to the ASD Parent Retreat where you will get ALL the  incredible opportunities on offerTo book, email us with your contact details, number of tickets and payment method: or call us 9079 8043.

Keep up the amazing work guys and I hope I see you at the retreat.

Amanda Abel – Paediatric Psychologist MAPS


Photo credit: Alison Postma



Why doesn’t my child LISTEN to me?!

Oh if I had a dollar for every time I was asked this question in the clinic…let’s just say I would be sunning myself somewhere, drink in hand! To top it off though – I’m guilty of complaining about this as a parent myself! Sometimes because I forget this crucial piece of information – we are teaching our kids NOT to listen to us.

Yep. Our responses to their non-compliance when we ask them to pack up their toys, put their PJs back in the washing basket, sit down to eat (you get the picture), is what teaches them whether or not to listen to us in the future. If, after we give them an instruction that they don’t follow, we throw our hands up in the air and give up (and do what we were asking them ourselves!), we are teaching our kids that they don’t need to listen to us.

Put visually this is what we call a “compliance routine” in the business (excuse the messiness – we just used this in a session!):

Compliance routine

You need to work out effective praise and consequences that are respectful and meaningful to your child (often a paediatric psych is the person who can help you nut this out if you’re struggling) but in a nutshell, the above compliance routine is THE BOMB. Try it and let me know how you go!

Amanda Abel is a paediatric psychologist at the Northern Centre for Child Development, an independent paediatric psychology clinic in Melbourne’s north.

Anxiety busters for kinder and school – Amanda Abel

Today in a meeting with educational staff we were talking about increasing a particularly anxious child’s sense of control. Increasing a child’s sense of control within our safe boundaries and confines can help to decrease anxiety levels because the child can then have a ‘say’ about his or her environment. Here were some of the ideas we came up with:

  • Using a ‘choice board’ to show the child the activities that need doing each day in the educational setting, but allowing him or her to choose the order in which they want to do the activities.
  • Using a ‘visual schedule’ to show the child the expectations for the day i.e. literacy, recess, music, lunch, swimming, home.
  • Establishing calming activities and spaces for the child for when he/she feels overwhelmed, such as a tent, music, sensory toys, trampoline etc. This relies on either the child being able to communicate their feelings in some way, or the staff reading the child to determine he/she is needing a break or some down time.
  • Using sensory aides to assist with self-regulation such as weighted products, posture wedges etc.
  • Using visual timers to help the child understand the length of time he or she will be engaged in a particular task, or to show how long it will be until home time.
  • Offering many ‘choice of two’ options throughout the day i.e. “do you want the blue chair or the red one?”; “do you want to do the puzzle or the craft table?” etc.

These are just some ideas that we use for children who are struggling with anxiety in educational settings – and at home for that matter! If you know of a kiddo who needs more specific ideas, get in touch with us at Northern Centre for Child Development.

Photo credit Charlotte NC Child Portrait Photographer

House rules for smooth sailing at home – Amanda Abel, paediatric psychologist

If you’re looking for some smoother sailing or calmer waters at home, making sure your kiddos know the behavioural boundaries can help. So how do we teach our kids which behaviours are okay and which ones are not okay? I guess part of this conundrum is to make sure that we are firstly clear about it in our own minds.  I’m no advocate for a cookie-cutter or one-size-fits-all approach in my practice, but I do generally find that a prescribed set of two to four, behaviourally based rules really helps communicate your expectations clearly to your kiddos. Before you sit down to explain the rules, consider these points:

  • You can set up clear rewards and consequences for whether or not the kids follow the rules. If you decide to do this, what will the rewards and consequences be?
  • Make sure your rules are positively phrased – i.e. you tell your children what to do, rather than what not to do.
  • Also, keep your rules realistic – I remember a family I saw many years ago who, when asked to create a list of ‘house rules’ for homework, returned the following week with an exhaustive list which documented every conceivable chore around the house that they wanted their child to do.
  • Keep your rules behaviourally based, not related to chores. Focus on the behaviours needed in order to be an active participant in the household if you are keen for your child to be contributing to the chore list. Behaviourally based rewards could be “we speak nicely to each other” or “we listen to our parents”.

When sitting down to explain the rules, talk about the ‘what’s in it for me’ factor with your child – i.e. why should he/she follow these rules now? You can explain both intrinsic (you’ll feel calmer when you talk kindly) and extrinsic motivators (you’ll get a star on your star chart for every day that you follow the rules).

For optimal results, pair your house rules with a reward system of some sort. Stay tuned for our post about reward charts and how best to implement one in your home.



Amanda Abel, paediatric psychologist, is available for consultations at Northern Centre for Child Development in Melbourne.

Photo credit Kris Williams

January School Readiness Group in Surrey Hills

Kerri-anne Telford (Paediatric Occupational Therapist) and Amanda Abel (Paediatric Psychologist) have joined forces to offer an exclusive School Readiness Program in the January School holidays prior to the commencement of school in 2016.

The Program will provide children in a small group (6 children max) with the opportunity to practice skills required for a successful transition to school. The children will have guided practice and support in skills such as gross motor, fine motor, social-emotional, and early literacy, along with appropriate sitting and mat time behaviours. Learning these skills in a supportive, structured and motivating environment will equip participants with exposure to the skills they need for successfully transitioning to school.

Kerri-anne and Amanda are highly experienced and will facilitate the sessions together. Following the completion of the program each child will be provided with a written report outlining their skills in each area along with strategies for the teacher in anticipation of their school entry in 2016. Reports will be completed and emailed on Friday the 29th of January.

The program will run across six sessions over two weeks in the Surrey Hills Clinic

When: Monday 18th, Tuesday 19th, Wednesday 20th, Thursday 21st January at 2pm-3:30pm; Wednesday 27th, Thursday 28th January at 10:30 – 12pm.
Where: 4/609 Canterbury Rd, Surrey Hills, 3127
Cost: $730 (FaHCSIA/HCWA fee is $750)

Bookings: Please email
or call Kerri-anne on 0418 582324 or Amanda on 0498648515

Eligibility: Your child must be attending mainstream school in 2016 to be suitable for this program.
If your child is new to either Kerri-anne Telford Paediatric Occupational Therapy or Northern Centre for Child development, a 45-minute screening assessment is required prior to the commencement at a cost of $120.
Confirmation: Your child’s place is confirmed once we receive full payment

Kerri-anne and Amanda are also able to attend school meetings and observations and would be happy to be part of your child’s team to support your child to reach their potential in the school environment.

Christmas Play-Doh Recipes and Ideas

I think I am a wanna-be Occupational Therapist. Looking at our Pinterest page and Facebook posts, I’m seeing a vast majority of sensory ideas and product reviews! Other than really respecting the work of our fellow OTs, it’s possible that a contributing factor to my fascination with all things sensory is that I’m a pretty sensory person myself – although aren’t we all? Maybe it’s just that I’m aware of my sensitivities and areas of seeking! And I’m raising my very own little being who seems to be following in my sensory footsteps. Needless to say we have lots of sensory toys and activities at home, some of which get purchased for the clinic but never make it there because a little someone intercepts them! So, when thinking about ways to incorporate sensory ideas into our Christmas festivities, I wondered about making some Christmas themed play doh. Turns out there are HEAPS of recipes, so I’ve compiled a shortlist:

  • This Cinnamon play doh recipe looks like it would smell divine, although I don’t know too many kids who actually like cinnamon! Might be something I would enjoy more than my daughter!
  • Here’s a cool way to get into the Christmas spirit with play doh – add some decorations to make Christmas trees with cookie cutters.
  • My child would totally want to eat this play doh, so I would have to reinforce the ‘we don’t eat play doh’ message but how divine would gingerbread play doh be? And I’d probably be careful about making sure the kids don’t inhale the cinnamon.
  • Snowman play doh – this is for people who don’t have a glitter ban in their house like I do. Yes, call me a fun killer but the stuff is NOT ALLOWED in my place!
  • Free printable play doh mats – this kind of thing is great for increasing creativity and for helping prompt children to mix things up a bit in their play doh play. This idea could be used with a non-Christmassy theme to help encourage creative play at other times of the year.
  • Candy cane play doh. Yum. Oh oops, we’re not supposed to eat it are we?!
  • With scents like egg nog and orange clove, I think I’ve saved the best link for last! Here are five ‘must try’ play doh recipes that sound suitably Christmassy.

And in case you want to read about the benefits of playing with play-doh, have a read of this. Some of the benefits are fine motor development, sensory, bilateral coordination, hand strengthening and creativity.

So get out the flour (and the dust-pan!), throw in a bit of your ‘mess is okay’ attitude and get ready for some Christmassy sensory entertainment!

Written by Amanda Abel, Paediatric Psychologist. Amanda and her team of dedicated professionals are available for consultations at Northern Centre for Child Development in Preston.

Photo credit:

Being Bigger, Stronger, Wiser and Kind to beat anxiety

Kids love rules.  We think they don’t, but they do – even if they don’t know it! Confused? Think for a minute about times when your kids have shown signs of anxiety (nail biting, teeth grinding, ‘meltdowns’, controlling behaviours and clinginess can sometimes indicate feelings of anxiety). What was going on environmentally at that time? Sometimes, a lack of boundaries, rules or expectations can leave kids wondering “who is really in charge here?”,  which can lead to less sophisticated versions of these kinds of thoughts: “if my caregivers aren’t able to stick to rules or set consistent boundaries, how can they protect me and keep me safe?”. This can create some pretty big feelings for kiddos, often feelings they can’t label which causes further uneasiness. When we as adults feel uneasy or anxious, we often try to reduce these feelings by increasing our sense of control. The same kind of thing happens with our kiddos who might show a need to gain some control over their environment in an attempt to get rid of their “yucky” feelings. Enter tricky behaviours that are rooted in ‘control’.

To steal a phrase from the Circle of Security founders, we need to be “bigger, stronger, wiser and kind” as caregivers if we are going to create secure little beings. Sometimes we need to make ‘grown-up’ decisions and be the parent even when our inner-child is screaming out to join in and have a laugh with our kiddo at 3 am when they are being funny and refusing to go back to bed. Because, chances are, tomorrow night we won’t be in the mood to have a laugh and what kind of message are we sending if one night we are happy to engage in frivolity in the dead of night but the next night we are not? Our kids can’t read our minds.

To be proactive, we need to be comfortable ‘taking charge’ and being the adult while balancing this with being kind. We need to be clear in our own minds about the rules we value and how we are going to communicate these to our children – and what the consequences will be for when these rules are broken. Often consequences are natural and logical, like when my daughter didn’t follow the “we look after our belongings” rule and her hoola hoop broke. In these instances, I don’t need to apply another consequence because this was really meaningful for her, and she understood the sequence of events that lead to her devastation thanks to the hoola-that-is-no-longer-a-hoop!

But how do we respond in the moment when we have tricky control-based behaviours? We need to welcome our children when they come to us with big feelings. We need to provide support for our kiddos to help them organise their feelings. What does that look like? It’s about labelling their feelings and acknowledging that all feelings are valid and worthwhile. And while we do this, we need to show them how to make themselves feel better. This might be about working together initially to take some deep breaths, or offering space, or giving a pillow to scream into or punch, or grabbing out some sensory toys if there are some biting or scratching behaviours going on.

Our job as parents is to provide the scaffolding for our kiddos to be able to self-regulate. The aim is not for independence, but for children to come to us for help and feel comfortable expressing their emotions in a safe and supported way.

If you’re keen to get ideas on how exactly you can set clear and consistent boundaries, stay tuned for our posts about reward charts and house rules to help get you started.

Amanda Abel – Paediatric Psychologist MAPS