From dietetics to chiro, speech to psychology, there is an array of extra health services available to little ones today. But what do they all do, and how do you access the right service when you need them?
As parents, all we want is for our little ones to be happy and healthy. Thankfully there has been a huge shift in services to assist us in that quest over the last 20 years, with wellness centres, preventative medicine and government rebates now available to families for many therapies.
Top of the kids’ healthcare list for most parents is dental, and with good reason. Though baby teeth fall out, instilling good dental care practices in little ones is essential for future oral health. As well, baby teeth are critical for speech and jaw development. “A lot of people dont realise, if baby teeth get decayed it can have an impact on their adult teeth," Stephanie Taylor, People and Development Coach at Avenue Dental explains.
To ensure good dental health, parents should help a child brush their teeth until around eight years old. “Until eight, children don’t have the dexterity to brush properly themselves. So, until that age, Mum or Dad should still get in there and brush with them at least once a day.”
Stephanie recommends taking children to the dentist from around two years old, or younger if any concerns..“We usually say the younger the better!” she says. “This way a trip to the dentist is familiar and we can develop a positive association with the experience.”
Initially, these visits just involve a ride in the chair, a quick count and check of their teeth and a chat with Mum or Dad if there are any concerns. “At this age, it’s just a fun place where we can build their confidence up and hopefully we don’t need to intervene.”
When choosing a dentist, look for one that prides themselves on working with children. “We have many secret tricks and techniques for ensuring a child is always happy! It’s very important to us, to ensure a child doesn’t have a life-long fear of the dentist.” Also, in case treatment is needed down the track, look for a surgery that covers most things at the one place. “We have most things covered at our practice – we have an orthodontist, an oral health therapist that specialises in children, and many others each with their own specialist areas such as root canals, implants, crowns, nervous patients.”
There is a means tested Child Health Dental Care Benefit available from Medicare for children between 2 and 17 years old. For those that don’t qualify, many dental surgeries have discounted rates for kids, and most private health funds provide full cover for children. Check with your fund.
Chiropractic care is a natural form of health care that uses spinal adjustments to correct misalignments and restore proper function to the nervous system.
A child can see a chiropractor from birth. “Babies can be born with musculoskeletal issues which may go undetected, such as a tight muscles and a sore neck," Dr Scott Baker from Children’s Sunshine Chiropractic explains. “This may result in babies not breastfeeding properly, they might become irritable, unsettled, favour one side, dislike being changed or become upset during tummy time.”
“We look at the musculoskeletal aspect – checking necks, backs and any muscle tightness, then use gentle chiropractic techniques to release. Without that pain and soreness, babies are often more settled, able to look both ways and able to breastfeed happier.”
Chiropractic care may also help with older kids who have sore backs, necks, headaches, or injuries from sports or falling off bikes or play equipment. “If we aren’t feeling good because we are stiff or sore, it may affect concentration and overall happiness. Chiropractic care can get rid of the musculoskeletal soreness, which will generally make kids happier.”
Chiropractic care for babies use different techniques to that for adults. “There’s a lack of information out there – everyone thinks of cracking bones but with babies that doesn’t happen at all! We use a very unique technique for babies which is very gentle, often only as much pressure as you can place on your eyeball.”
Scott recommends that every baby should at least be checked by a chiropractor. “One research article estimated up to 73% of babies may be born with musculoskeletal problems, so it’s worth at least having an assessment done to see if there is any stiffness or soreness1. Sorting that out may make a huge difference.”
There’s no need for a referral for chiropractic care, and costs may be claimed through private health insurance. Check with your fund.
Far more than simply teaching vocabulary, a speech pathologist works on communication as a whole. From articulating sounds correctly and helping children follow instructions, to non-verbal communication and those who have trouble swallowing food and drink, a speech pathologist can work across a range of cases and ages.
“We can assess and treat anyone who experiences difficulty with their language and communication skills,” says Liz Garcia, Speech Pathologist from Beyond Words Therapy. "We see children who present with a single articulation error to children with disabilities who require support across a range of communication areas. We work closely with the client and their family to find out exactly where their difficulties lie and determine how we can best support them to can get their needs met.”
Children may see to a speech pathologist from birth, or in many cases are referred by their school. “We support children who come to us after receiving a diagnosis at birth, and for these children it's about making sure the environment they are raised in is rich and supportive, so we often work closely with the parents,” Liz explains.
“Teachers also refer children to us when they get to Kindy and a delay is noticed. A child might be behind in reading, or show delays in social skills, speech or language skills. In this case, we work closely with the child and support the teachers in the classroom to best support the child and aid their transition to school.”
A speech pathologist can also help with children who need alternative ways to communicate as a result of their disability. “We work with low-tech and high-tech devices as alternative communication systems, such as sign language, symbols and pictures, and iPads,” says Liz.
Speech pathology has come a long way in recent years. “With more funding options available, speech pathology services have become more accessible,” says Liz. “There is currently a huge push on early intervention as more and more research shows that a child’s early experiences literally shape the way their young brain develops. This is why it is so important act straight away if you see any signs that your child’s communication development may be delayed.”
You don't need a referral to access a speech pathologist. “A concerned parent is the only referral we need!” Liz says. “You can get a referral from your GP, paediatrician, or teacher, but you can also walk in the door and refer yourself.”
There are also various funding options available including private health insurance, Medicare, and the NDIS may also cover some cases (the NDIS is being rolled out across the region over the next 12 months).
For more information on speech pathology including, fact sheets, communication milestones, resources, book of the year awards and more, visit the Speech Pathology Australia website (speechpathologyaustralia.org.au) or contact your local speech pathologist.
There are many reasons a child might require the support of an Occupational Therapist (OT). The most well-known is for helping children with fine motor skills and hand–eye coordination. However, an OT can also help in many other ways such as sensory processing and sensory regulation, concentration difficulties, coordination struggles, developmental delays, feeding difficulties, friendship and social skills, and simply helping them learn to play. An OT can also work with those children diagnosed with ASD and ADHD, helping them with self-care skills, learning and play skills, as well as work with parents to establish a supportive home environment.
OT services are covered on the NDIS. You can access an OT through your GP, or simply find one in your local area, a referral is not necessary.
With a deeper understanding of health conditions that affect all children under the ages of 18 years old, a paediatrician is often invited by a GP to assist when there is more diagnostic information required. “Your GP is able to help with multiple general childhood health issues. However, a paediatrician may become involved for more complex matters such as allergies, diabetes, and epilepsy,” says Dr Caroline Hughes, Paediatrician and founder of Nurture Paediatrics. “Some infants are known to have major health conditions before birth as a result of investigations performed during pregnancy. Some infants are born too early, some children are not achieving their milestones in speech and language or fine motor skills. I assess these children to determine if there is a serious cause and how to help them achieve their age appropriate goals. I often ask allied health colleagues such as physiotherapists, speech and language pathologists and occupational therapists to help,” explains Caroline.
A paediatrician can help with a range of health issues such as: baby checks, weight or growth concerns, feeding issues, sleeping problems, concerns regarding a child’s development or behaviour, learning disabilities, diagnosis and management of autism spectrum disorder, children with disabilities, paediatric allergies, diabetes, bed wetting and more.
The cost of a paediatrician varies between services, with a portion rebated via Medicare, and you can choose the paediatrician you visit.
“Parents should know that if they don’t feel comfortable or are unsatisfied with the care their child is receiving, they have the right to request transfer of care to another paediatrician,” says Caroline. “Overall however, parents need to choose a specialist who they feel comfortable with, someone who will take the time to listen and understand. Some paediatric patients will require long-term care into adulthood.”
Patients will need a referral from a GP that is valid for 12 months. A specialist may also refer but the referral is only valid for three months. Without a current referral, patients will not be able to claim the Medicare benefit.
If you have any concerns with your child’s nutrition, a dietitian can help with a range of feeding and diet concerns. “I see lots of families with a range of issues,” explains Deb Blakley, Dietitian and Nutritionist from Kids Dig Food. “One of the main reasons for referrals is picky or fussy eating. But I also see children with more severe eating difficulties possibly linked with sensory difficulties, or a diagnosis such as ADHD and autism. I’m also increasingly seeing children referred for weight concerns (over or underweight), and nutritional concerns around allergies and food intolerances,” Deb says.
“As well, nutrition is constantly evolving; the recommendations are always changing and there is a lot of conflicting information out there. So, many parents come simply to have a clear understanding of what to do.”
An experienced paediatric Dietitian will look at the whole feeding environment. What children are eating, how food is prepared, what the family routines are, and then work with you to help you feed your family in the way you want to feed them.
“We all eat differently and all feed differently, so the Dietitian needs to consider how you actually feed your family, rather than simply telling you what to do.” says Deb. “There’s no point in someone drawing up complicated recipes and plans if you don’t like to cook!”
Though you might already know what you’d like your child to be eating, having an expert look from the outside and help with the ‘how’ of feeding can be incredibly helpful. “There can be a lot of confusion around things like allergies and intolerances. A dietitian can work with parents to identify problem foods, additives or food chemicals. We then expand the food range as much as we can around those results, to still give that child a varied, healthy diet.”
If you are finding mealtimes stressful; if feeding a child is beginning to affect family relationships or you have concerns about a child’s growth, then seeing a dietitian experienced in family feeding may be beneficial.
Today, there is plenty of mental health support available for kids who need it. Young people aged 12-25 can access headspace – a low cost service that provides early intervention mental health services. This can be accessed via a website (eheadspace.org.au), phone line (1800 650 890) and via the many headspace centres located across the region.
For kids under 12 years old, seeing a specialist face-to-face is helpful.
“Mental health in these earlier years is incredibly important. Sometimes it is difficult to notice changes in mood or behaviour given how busy family life is, but it is good if we can take a bit of time to reflect on how our kids are going. There could be many underlying reasons that might be causing a change in behaviour,” Dr Jill Cumberbatch, Clinical Psychologist at Dandelion Clinical Psychology for Children explains. “It could be the environment – school or home – social relationships, bullying, developmental issues, learning struggles, transitions or change or family breakdown to name a few possible causes for a child to struggle.
There are many things that can accumulate and result in emotional difficulty which can lead to the change in behaviour that we see.
“It is so very important that we accurately understand why a child is struggling so we know how we can resolve it.”
Changes to look out for are shifts in sleep patterns, withdrawal, emotional meltdowns or lashing out at others, getting into trouble at school, or just seeming to be more troubled by everyday occurrences.
Jill believes that early intervention is key. “The more proactive and preventative we can be for children under 12, the less they will struggle later in their teens,” she says. “Quite often, the difficulties that are happening in the early years can be easily sorted out. So, it’s much better to reach out for help and get things resolved early. It’s all about prevention, building happy, resilient, confident children, so they can be happy, successful young people and adults.”
First stop to access a Psychologist for your child is to head to your GP. They can provide a Mental Health Care Plan which gives up to ten sessions per year through Medicare with a Psychologist. Feel free to shop around for a Psychologist before you go to the GP to find one that fits with your child and yourself. Some are bulk billed, and some will charge a gap fee depending on your circumstances. Your GP may also be able to recommend a Psychologist who works primarily with children and families.
If you are concerned but aren’t sure whether a Psychologist is needed, Jill recommends keeping a diary to keep track of any incidents, and then seeing your GP with this information. “If it’s something that happens over a couple of weeks, it could just be the rise and fall of everyday life. But if it’s sustained over a longer period of time, and that nagging thought is still there, head to your GP to have a chat.”
Avenue Dental. Established on the Sunshine Coast for over 26 years, Avenue Dental is built on long-term trusting relationships, delivering the highest quality of dentistry. They offer a complete range of dentistry from emergency appointments to cosmetic dentistry, children’s dentistry, teeth whitening, dental implants and smile makeovers.
Caloundra, Maroochydore, Kawana / (07) 5443 8111 / avenuedental.com.au
Beyond Words. Servicing the Sunshine Coast Hinterland, Beyond Words Speech and Language Therapy works with a broad range of clients with a variety of communication disorders and with differing levels of severity such as speech and language delay, social skills difficulties, literacy difficulties, ASD, Aspergers Syndrome, down Syndrome and stuttering.
Maleny / 0431 590 216 / beyondwordstherapy.com.au
Children’s Sunshine Chiropractic. Conveniently located in two locations on the Sunshine Coast, Children’s Sunshine Chiropractic has practitioners who are trained in paediatric chiropractic care and are baby and child focused. With over 45 years combined experience, the practitioners continually undergo educational training and are some of the best trained practitioners on the Sunshine Coast.
Caloundra & Buderim / (07) 5491 7743 / childrenssunshinechiropractic.com.au
Dandelion Clinical Psychology. Dandelion Clinical Psychology has been created to provide a dedicated children’s clinic of excellence for child and family psychological assessment and intervention. The vision is for ‘every child to smile inside’ and offers the highest standard of psychological assessment and therapeutic intervention for a wide range of mental health struggles and presentations for children under 12.
Maroochydore / (07) 5452 9804 / dandelionpsychology.com.au
Health Naturally Chiropractic. Health Naturally Chiropractic offers gentle adjustments for the whole family. Families and individuals consult the office for many different reasons Whether you have been to a chiropractor before or looking for new ways to become healthier, Health Naturally Chiropractice look forward to supporting you with your health care goals
Maroochydore / (07) 5451 1121 / facebook.com/HealthNaturallyChiropractic
Kids Dig Food. Specialising in family-focused nutrition and dietetics services, Kids Dig Food provides no-fuss solutions for the fussiest of eaters to kids where weight is a concern. All Kids Dig Food services aim to be practical, real, achievable and most of all fun, helping you learn to eat well together, without the battles.
Brisbane & Sunshine Coast / 1300 971 609 / kidsdigfood.com.au
Talk Plus Allied Health Centre. A team of experienced speech pathologists that support children, parents and educators to help children achieve their best speech, language, literacy and communication skills. Talk Plus Allied Health provide speech pathology services for children of all ages using evidence based practice in a caring and professional manner.
Caloundra / (07) 5491 5400 / talkplus.com.au
Nurture Paediatrics. Nurture Paediatrics offers children and parents/carers a personal approach to paediatric care. The team is committed to providing children and their parents/carers with long-term, holistic healthcare and support, and the bespoke service offers parents/carers reassurance that their child’s health is also their greatest priority.
Buderim / (07) 5345 5733 / nurturepaediatrics.com.au