Ashleigh O’Connor is the Clinical Director at Mosaic Early Intervention, based in the Sutherland Shire. Mosaic Early Intervention was created to help children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and other behavioural difficulties to learn new skills and overcome the barriers they may face in their everyday life.
We spoke to Ashleigh about how she started Mosaic Early Intervention, what inspired her and what it took to grow and meet the needs of her local community.
What inspired you to start your own business?
I always wanted to help children with disabilities, I initially thought I wanted to be a speech pathologist.
Whilst studying my Undergraduate Degree in Speech and Hearing Sciences I came across Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA). ABA is an approach to teaching, which allows children to learn new socially significant skills such as communication, personal independence and social skills.
This led to me to working as a behaviour technician for a couple of families whilst I continued my studies. I fell in love with teaching kids with autism. Being able to teach them skills to help them in their everyday life and provide them with new opportunities was extremely rewarding and fulfilling.
When I finished my bachelor's degree, I was offered a full time role as a Senior Behaviour Technician, which further helped me gain more experience working in the field.
While I was working as a Senior Behaviour Technician, I completed my Graduate Certificate in Autism Studies to gain a deeper understanding of ASD and to help me decide if this was the right path for me. Following that, I became a supervisor of children’s early intervention programs and enrolled in a Master of Education in Applied Behaviour Analysis, in pursuit of my international board certification.
Having worked in Early Intervention for 8 years and growing up in the Sutherland Shire, I saw a strong need for reliable and effective Early Intervention services for children in my local area. Providing a quality service locally seemed like a no-brainer.
What were the challenges, particularly when you were first starting out?
For me, I was committed to finding the right people to work with our children. This role is not for everyone, you need to have passion and drive and there are many challenges along the way.
Growing the team with the right people was my biggest challenge. I now have a strong team who all share the same passion of helping children with Autism and helping them meet their goals. This is something I am truly proud of and it's a great feeling knowing that together we are helping and supporting many families.
How have things changed in your business?
Looking back to July 2019 when I started the business, we were working from my home and operating a very small team. As demand grew, we were able to grow the team and set up a clinic in Sutherland. We can now see our families for their initial sessions in our clinic and we run training workshops there too to help support our families and our teams.
Being a local service, we have come to know what is truly important to families in the Shire. We have seen gaps, where we know parents need additional support and we are working to meet those needs and expand our service offering to additional areas, such as water safety.
Have you been impacted this year by COVID/ restrictions? How have you adapted?
During the lockdown, we did move to telehealth for some of our sessions. It was challenging as it doesn't suit all children and families. We altered our policies and procedures around personal hygiene to ensure we were doing the best to protect our families and team.
We stopped going to schools and daycares for a while and increased our in-home support, with new procedures in place. Our team did a great job of adapting to the change and supporting families through that difficult period.
What do you love the most about your business?
What I love the most is that we are able to help kids meet their full potential and with all of our kids we see such a bright future. Many of our kids ‘graduate’ and no longer need us, which is the ultimate goal.
Many of our kids transition into mainstream schooling with great success. For those who don't, preparing them for school, ensuring they have the right supports in place, and seeing them do really well is such a gift.
What drives you to grow and improve the business?
The more kids we can help the better, we are always looking to improve our services and do the best we can. We really do want to continue to grow and help more children and their families, but we also want to ensure we keep our quality.
Growth is happening; however, it is happening at a rate which is sustainable to stay true to our core values. This is really important for us.
What tips do you have for anyone looking to get started with their own business?
I am fortunate to have many contacts and friends in my industry which has helped with referrals. I would say that collaborating with other professionals in the field and other allied health fields is key, as is maintaining strong relationships.
My advice would be… to gain experience, learn from multiple supervisors, listen and learn as much as you can from others. Never stop accessing education, as our field is progressive, so we should all keep an open mind in order to do better for our children and families.
Plan really well to make sure you have your processes in place and provide top quality services. The way you start is the way you will be known. You have to be passionate. Know your vision and stay true to it.
Finally, you must absolutely love what you are doing, and helping children and their families should always be number one!