The Whole Child

Mum of six Crystel Poggioli runs a holistic paediatric occupational therapy service for kids living in the Atherton Tablelands, west of Cairns.

Crystel’s business, The Whole Child, which has been funded by CheckUP for around five years is committed to creating peaceful, holistic solutions for kids living with developmental disabilities like Autism Spectrum Disorder, Cerebral Palsy and Global Developmental Delay.

Recently shortlisted for a Queensland Reconciliation Award, Crystel supports a range of children, including many of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander descent, to live positive and productive lives.


Tell me about your business

My business provides paediatric occupational therapy services in community and clinical settings across the Atherton Tablelands. I have a passion for natural health solutions and, as part of that, I'm also a Certified Gut and Psychology Syndrome (GAPS) Practitioner so for some clients I also provide these services. My business also provides support to parents in using peaceful and practical solutions to assist with challenging behaviours.

Run through a typical day

Gee - a typical day!  Well I'm also a home-schooling mum to six children. So a typical day involves getting up really early and doing as much paperwork as I can do before the children all start to emerge.  And then if it's a home day my focus turns to my own family. On days where I'm seeing clients the children organise breakfast while I get ready for work. I write my plan of clients for the day, and take note of what I'll be focusing on for each session. Then I pack my bags and my car. One of the joys of being a community based therapist means I'm often carrying a lot of equipment - anything from special cushions,  books,  games,  top quality drawing materials, and modelling clay.

My mum, or our lovely babysitter, arrives to take care of my children. Then I drive off and see children in schools, kindys, homes, and sometimes in my own home-based clinic.  It's an intense but really enjoyable day. Lots of my day is spent down on the floor playing, and as much as I love this it can be really intense. Some children who have challenging behaviours take all of my energy to work with - but there is always something positive to take from each session.

Throughout the day I'm catching up with parents and teachers as well to provide them with support.

Then it's back home again to unpack, squeeze in as much paperwork as I can and enjoy a dinner cooked by my 14 year old son (he cooks when I work!). I also do paperwork throughout the week when my own children don’t need me. My job has a lot of paperwork!

Your therapies are mainly play based - tell me more about that.

For children one of their main daily occupations is play. This is often how children relate to the world, and is a great way to engage them to overcome their challenges. Most of the children would have no idea that while we are having a great time playing we are working on therapy goals, and that I'm doing constant informal assessments of how they are functioning. Play is also a great vehicle for helping with a range of social and emotional issues like anxiety and stress. Often children aren't able to verbalise their emotions very well, but tensions can be eased through playing.

How does CheckUP support your work?

CheckUP provides workplace support that enables me to see children and families in the Atherton and Mareeba Aboriginal communities. This means that some families who have no other source of funding are able to access bulk billed services. Having CheckUP's continuous support over the years has meant I've been able to establish strong relationships within the local Aboriginal communities, and have had some families on my caseload for the entire time. Providing continuity of service has a broader impact and for some families has even meant that their school attendance has improved significantly because they feel their children's needs are more supported and understood in that setting.

Is there a high level of need for your services on the Atherton Tablelands?

There is a significant demand for our services on the Atherton Tablelands and it is always increasing.  We are generally fully booked for each school term, but usually have some appointments available for new clients.  We are hoping in the future to be able to expand and have more therapists with a similar mindset and approach working in our team.

Is early intervention key in supporting children developmental disabilities?

I've seen early intervention make a real difference in the lives of many families. In some cases the kids have done so well that it is difficult to detect their underlying diagnosis anymore. And in contrast, when I see families who have had no support and their children are a bit older before they present for support, there is significant stress for the child, family and education staff. In some cases this is so significant that there will be mental health presentations.    

What do you find rewarding about the work you do?

The thing I love most about the work that I do is the connection and relationships with children and their families. Often the families I get to know are facing huge daily struggles. It is such a privilege to empower them to take little steps that make a positive difference every day. I love seeing them be inspired to be their best selves and to enjoy life and their own families as best as they possibly can.

How can people access your services?

They are welcome to contact me directly via my web page

For families of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander background they are welcome to obtain a GP referral from Mulungu or Midin Health Clinics, or from their preferred GP. I'm happy to do face-to-face appointments, and have also recently begun Skype, email and phone consults for people from further afield.

Anything else you would like to add?

Many thanks to the ongoing support of CheckUP. They have allowed me to have my dream job by supporting me to work with the local Aboriginal communities. Without CheckUP’s support this service would not be available to most Aboriginal families. I'm immensely grateful for that. I'm also extremely grateful to both Mulungu and Midin Primary Aboriginal Health Clinics in Mareeba and Atherton. They do a wonderful job within the local community, and have been very supportive over the years. It is always a pleasure to work in conjunction with these passionate health care organisations. I also want to thank my own family for supporting me to work in so many little and big ways each week – without their support I could never have started a business. And of course a big thank you to the children and families I work with for trusting me and allowing me to share their journeys with them – they are the real heroes of my story.