Updated: Dec 27, 2021
Deli Winthrope is an Occupational Therapist at Giant Steps Melbourne, and has a keen interest in supporting emotional regulation and sensory processing in Autistic young people. When Deli’s not working, she enjoys walking in the sunshine, watching musicals or singing with her choir.
We asked Deli about her work as an Occupational Therapist in specialised education. Enjoy!
Why did you decide to pursue OT as a career?
At the age of 15, I completed work experience at a Special Development School, and after that week, I decided I was going to be an Occupational Therapist in a specialist school setting. I got a bit distracted, and fell into nursing, but knew very quickly I wanted to get back on the OT train. I was lucky enough to complete my nursing training and then go on to study a Masters of Occupational Therapy, and I haven’t looked back!
What draws you to Autism in particular, within the disability space?
I love how individualised the work is. There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach, and so every day is different and exciting. Each student that I work with is so unique in their strengths and goals. Autism requires such a holistic approach to supporting an individual in achieving their goals, and consequently, there is always room for collaboration between all those who provide the support (families, educators, therapists, support workers) - which I love.
"There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach, and so every day is different and exciting."
Can you briefly explain what Giant Steps is and what it offers young people with disability?
Giant Steps School is an Autism specific education and therapy centre, where students receive multidisciplinary therapy support (speech pathology, occupational therapy & music therapy), and curriculum based learning. Giant Steps uses an individualised approach to support each student and their family. At Giant Steps we’re focused on encouraging young people to be their most independent selves, with key learning areas being social communication, emotional regulation and community access.
In 2020, Giant Steps Melbourne celebrated their first graduating class of students. These students moved to our new program, Adult Autism Services, where they receive support to access an individualised, strength-based therapy program. This program is centred around client interests and goals, to support participation in the community.
What sort of features should be considered when designing a school for students with Autism?
I think a major focus on design should incorporate sensory profiles, and consider the varying sensory preferences of students. This includes noise reduction techniques, access to movement and break spaces, equipment for sensory input/deprivation (swings, trampolines, quiet/darker spaces), changes to room lighting, neutral and predictable walls and classroom spaces.
It’s also important to consider the generalisability of skills. For example, when teaching a skill like hand-washing, taps should emulate the most commonly found taps. This supports students learning this skill at school, which they can then generalise this to new environments, rather than having to relearn how to use a new tap.
What would you change about the way disability is perceived in Australia?
I would love the Australian public to understand how important community is in supporting young Autistic people. I also want them to know that these people are just out there, trying to live their best lives, like the rest of us.