A paediatric occupational therapist from Wellington is helping young Aboriginal children cope with life experiences through storytelling.
Paediatric occupational therapist at the Wellington Aboriginal Corporation Health Service (WACHS), Sally Brown delivered a virtual presentation at the Occupational Therapy Mental Health Forum in Melbourne last November, on the significance of storytelling for Aboriginal children in remote and regional NSW.
In her presentation she used the example of a story she wrote for a child who had suffered a head injury in a car accident. His grandmother who cares for him had identified he had not processed the accident.
Ms Brown worked with the child's family to create a number of books, using the child's favourite character, Batman, who undergoes a variety of experiences and feelings relatable to the child.
"I have been doing these stories for children that are having issues that they're finding hard to process," she said.
"This little guy's grandmother had been talking with me how she felt he had never had an opportunity to process the accident that he was in, and so I base the stories on the child's favourite animal or character, his favourite character was Batman."
With her ongoing involvement with the child, she has now created four books to help address other challenges related to his changing family circumstances and the long-term effects of the injuries he sustained.
Ms Brown, who had been developing stories in collaboration with parents and carers for the last 10 years, said storytelling helps children identify with their favourite animals or characters and process their experiences, which might be difficult.
She said these stories also help metaphorically separate the children from direct experiences, distancing them from worry or anxiety.
"Reading to children is a really good way to connect with them and make transitions with them, from the busy day to going to sleep."
"For issues that are raw or hard to manage, or hard to even think about, having a third party, so something that they identify with because its a favourite something, and if that favourite something is going through a similar same situation as a child, then they're able to have someone to identify with, have someone who has the same feelings as they have," she said.
"When you hear the child say, 'that's just like me' or 'I've got that too', you know that they've identified with it, and are able to use that to process something that's difficult."
"That's why having a favourite character or animal, it's not as confronting as if it were a story about them. That's too confronting, that becomes too anxiety provoking, where as if its in the third person its accessible to them."
Ms Brown however said this type of therapy takes time, and requires a relationship and knowledge of the child experiencing these developmental emotional and psychological issues.
She said it was also important to collaborate with parents and caregivers to help create the stories, as they were crucial to helping the child process.
"Sometimes some parents need coaching about what you can say or do when you get to that part of the story, and having that significant adult also understanding what [the child] is going through, that its so important [for a child] to be understood and acknowledged," Ms Brown said.
"For small children, you don't often have to have a fix-it, for them to be understood and acknowledged is often a really good place to start to grow and develop beyond that."
Ms Brown has been with WACHS since November 2017 and works in the new directions program. In her role she has been to support Aboriginal children and their families in a child's growth and development.
Part of her role is visiting children in their natural environments at preschool, in schools and at home.
"It's been a very steep learning curve. and so I've had to learn a lot. It has been a big privilege to work with the Aboriginal families in Wellington.