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Team Biographies

Diana Pierags – Director of DOTS (Diana’s Occupational Therapy Service) for children

Working as a Clinical Specialist in Paediatric Occupational Therapist in a variety of settings,  I am registered with the Health Care Professional Council (HCPC) and a member of the Royal College of Occupational Therapists and CYPF specialist interest section.

I qualified in 2010 with a BSc (Hons) Occupational Therapy and completed a MSc Advancing Practice in Occupational Therapy in 2016, and am also an advanced Practitioner in Sensory Integration

Born in Germany, I moved to Ireland in 2004 and worked as a health care assistant in a hospital for the elderly before studying Occupational Therapy at University College Cork on a four-year degree. After qualifying, I worked with teenagers with ASD as part of a private practice. In 2011, I moved to the UK to work as a Paediatric Occupational Therapist in an NHS trust in Hampshire and Surrey working with children with a variety of conditions aged up to19. In 2012, I started a Specialist Paediatric Occupational Therapy position in an NHS trust in London and was promoted to being a Highly Specialist Occupational Therapist in 2014. I was then prompted to Band 8 Team lead and clinical specialist in the NHS, and am now the director of DOTS for children Ltd.

As well as being school AMPS trained, Bobath trained and certified PDA therapist, I have done extensive research in the use of the SCERTS model and supported its set up in varies special schools.

I also work as an expert witness for medico legal cases and support EHCP application, implementation and tribunal matters.

My passion lies in research, working with children and young adults with complex conditions and backgrounds including LAC, ASD, attachment and sensory processing difficulties.

Hayley Clay-Smith - Occupational Therapist (OT)

My Kisimul career began at the start of 2020, and I am mainly based at the Swinderby site, but I also work at Acacia Hall. I have been a qualified OT for 10 years and have worked in many areas of medical and healthcare in the NHS, education and abroad.

My role at Kisimul includes developing the service, doing 1-1 sessions and class sessions providing input for fine motor, gross motor and sensory regulation, all of which can include doing observations, assessments and equipment provision.

An imaginative and creative person who enjoys helping others, I enjoy baking, walking, watching films and spending time with family/friends in my own time.

Louise Kennedy-Taylor – Occupational Therapist

It is a privilege to be an occupational therapist with Kisimul and it has been a joy for me to work with children and young people for almost 30 years as a teacher and as an Occupational Therapist.

Having studied Anthropology and Archaeology at The University of Newcastle Upon Tyne (First Class BA honours) I took my Post Graduate Certificate in Education (PGCE Primary University of Leicester 1992), subsequently taking further Post Graduate Diplomas in the teaching of Science and also Multicultural Education.  My passion for enabling children and young people to flourish, irrespective of their personal and environmental circumstances, drove my 14 years of teaching in schools across Leicester and Leicestershire in culturally rich and diverse areas and areas of social deprivation.

This passion led me to explore further ways to enable young people to lead enjoyable and meaningful lives – a journey taking me to further my studies in Occupational Therapy: holistic and person focused where enablement, choice and positivity are fundamental.

As a qualified Occupational Therapist (Coventry University 2005) I have worked at University Hospitals Leicester with people experiencing severe trauma including limb amputation.  For the past 12 years I have worked with Leicester Partnership NHS Trust as an Occupational Therapist for children and young people. This has included working in mainstream and specialist schools, with young people in their homes and in a children’s hospice. The young people with whom I worked lived with a wide range of conditions including life limiting muscular dystrophies, acquired brain injury, complex neurological and neurodevelopmental conditions which impacted on their learning, their mental health and physical health.

In my practice I use a wide range of evidence based therapeutic approaches including Ayres’ Sensory Integration (qualified ASI practitioner), Cognitive Orientation to Occupational Performance (Co-op approach) and biomechanical approaches. In addition I am a qualified “performance coach” with the Institute of Leadership and Management (ILM) and have undertaken training on risk assessment and management: “Managing Safely “(IOSHH).

As a member of numerous professional bodies including The Royal College of Occupational Therapists (RCOT), The British Association of Occupational Therapists (BAOT), the RCOT special interest group Children and Young People’s Forum (CYP) and registered with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) my professional development and standards are regulated and monitored to the highest possible standard.

Louise Kennedy-Taylor - Occupational Therapist

It is a privilege to be an occupational therapist with Kisimul and it has been a joy for me to work with children and young people for almost 30 years as a teacher and as an Occupational Therapist.

Having studied Anthropology and Archaeology at The University of Newcastle Upon Tyne (First Class BA honours) I took my Post Graduate Certificate in Education (PGCE Primary University of Leicester 1992), subsequently taking further Post Graduate Diplomas in the teaching of Science and also Multicultural Education.  My passion for enabling children and young people to flourish, irrespective of their personal and environmental circumstances, drove my 14 years of teaching in schools across Leicester and Leicestershire in culturally rich and diverse areas and areas of social deprivation.

This passion led me to explore further ways to enable young people to lead enjoyable and meaningful lives – a journey taking me to further my studies in Occupational Therapy: holistic and person focused where enablement, choice and positivity are fundamental.

As a qualified Occupational Therapist (Coventry University 2005) I have worked at University Hospitals Leicester with people experiencing severe trauma including limb amputation.  For the past 12 years I have worked with Leicester Partnership NHS Trust as an Occupational Therapist for children and young people. This has included working in mainstream and specialist schools, with young people in their homes and in a children’s hospice. The young people with whom I worked lived with a wide range of conditions including life limiting muscular dystrophies, acquired brain injury, complex neurological and neurodevelopmental conditions which impacted on their learning, their mental health and physical health.

In my practice I use a wide range of evidence based therapeutic approaches including Ayres’ Sensory Integration (qualified ASI practitioner), Cognitive Orientation to Occupational Performance (Co-op approach) and biomechanical approaches. In addition I am a qualified “performance coach” with the Institute of Leadership and Management (ILM) and have undertaken training on risk assessment and management: “Managing Safely “(IOSHH).

As a member of numerous professional bodies including The Royal College of Occupational Therapists (RCOT), The British Association of Occupational Therapists (BAOT), the RCOT special interest group Children and Young People’s Forum (CYP) and registered with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) my professional development and standards are regulated and monitored to the highest possible standard.

Angela Wood – Educational Support Manager

My role as Educational Support Manager for Kisimul Group in Lincolnshire involves managing the Psychology and Therapies team and ensuring the delivery of an integrated therapeutic approach within our educational and residential services. The difference this specialist support makes to individuals and their families who may have found it difficult to access this support in the past is huge. It is a real privilege to be part of supporting people to enjoy a good quality of life and achieve success.

I have a first class degree in Psychology from the University of Liverpool, and qualifications in Counselling Skills and Mental Health Awareness. I have worked for Kisimul Group for 20 years, 18 of which have been in the Psychology and Therapies team. As part of my continued professional development, I have undertaken roles within the residential, educational and therapeutic teams. The range of experience across settings has been invaluable in helping me to provide individually tailored support for people within our services and coaching and guidance for our staff teams. I have eight years’ experience in leadership and management and love working with our talented and dedicated Psychology and Therapy teams.

My training opportunities at Kisimul have included ‘Building on existing knowledge and taking a lead in autism’ Level 3 from the Autism Education Trust and training in specific approaches such as SCERTS. I have also benefitted from training courses on Attachment, Pathological Demand Avoidance and Developing Core Play skills.

I am also a Meas trainer for Kisimul Group. Meas is our behaviour support training programme which is certified by BILD (The British Institute of Learning Disabilities) and educates our staff teams on the core needs of the people who access our services and how best to support them. I am very passionate about providing comprehensive training programmes for our staff teams to support them to feel confident in implementing person-centred approaches and promoting individuals’ choices, independence and wellbeing.

Working with individuals with autism and learning disabilities has meant a very fulfilling career, and I continue to enjoy learning about new ways to support people with the aim of enhancing their opportunities, wellbeing and happiness.

Abigail Barwell – Assistant Educational Psychologist

After graduating from the University of Sunderland with a degree in Psychology and Biochemistry, I worked as bank staff at a number of local authority children’s homes, supporting young people with a range of backgrounds and needs. This gave me the experience and desire to work with those with more challenging needs and I started work as a Residential Support Worker at The Old Vicarage, Swinderby in 2001.

I have had the opportunity to develop my skills and work in a variety of different settings as the group has expanded over the years.  When Acacia Hall opened, I moved to work as a Senior Residential Support Worker and a few years later I became an Assistant Educational Psychologist based at Acacia Hall and have also worked at Swinderby and supported newer team members at Woodstock House, Surrey. My enjoyment the variety of the role meant I decided to complete a Diploma in Psychology (conversion for postgraduates) with the Open University, completing this in 2008.

Throughout my career at Kisimul, I have had the opportunity to access a range of courses that benefit my role and given me chance to develop both professionally and personally. My current area of interest in Mental Health and supporting those with a range of complex needs in this area through 1:1 work or by raising staff awareness.

I enjoy the variety of work and the chances to work collaboratively with other disciplines, whilst supporting the young people reach their potential during their time at Kisimul School and the positive impact this can have on their family relationships.

Over the years I have been lucky enough to be involved in supporting with a number of extracurricular activities that have been available to the young people, such as climbing and the Duke of Edinburgh scheme

In my spare time I enjoy running, spending time with friends and family and visiting new places. I also enjoy supporting local charity events most recently completing a wing walk!

Sarah Hanson - Assistant Educational Psychologist

After starting out as a Support Worker in the adult services at Kisimul Group in 2015, I joined the Therapy team as an Assistant Educational Psychologist in 2018.

Before working at Kisimul, I studied Psychology as an undergraduate degree, which I thoroughly enjoyed. During my degree, I studied a module on autism, which lead to me pursuing a job role working with and supporting individuals with autism and complex needs.

While working with individuals with complex needs can be challenging, it can also be hugely rewarding. I have always been passionate about helping others and love that my role allows me to build on this. Within my role, I particularly enjoy working directly with our young people, delivering both group and 1:1 sessions under the supervision of our Educational Psychologist.

I’m enjoying gaining valuable experience and developing my skills so I can help make a positive impact on people’s lives and their future success, which will help me develop my career in the direction I decide. Kisimul has offered various valuable training courses and opportunities which help with my professional and personal development, including topics such as mental health, anxiety, gender and sexuality.

In my spare time I enjoy reading, sewing and socialising with my friends and family.

Natasha Swain – Assistant Educational Psychologist

My work at Kisimul began as a Teaching Assistant at Swinderby School in 2017where I gained a lot of experience working with the children and young adults in the classroom, and during afterschool clubs and holiday school. I worked at our further education college in 2018 for six months as a Learning Support Assistant supporting the adults in animal husbandry, which gave me more insight into our adult sector and the opportunities we create in further education for our young adults who attend.

In 2019, I joined the Therapy team as an Assistant Educational Psychologist, where I am part of adult services We work with students and staff at our college, Calman Colaiste in Peterborough. I support assessments and carry out observations, take part in multidisciplinary team meeting and do group and 1:1 sessions and intervention planning, supervised by the Educational Psychologist. I enjoy training staff in new approaches and supporting the young adults in their learning journey with staff.

My BSc (Hons) degree in Psychology and Criminology was gained at the University of Lincoln, after which I became a training manager for a food industry business, and later horse riding instructor. During my time as an instructor, I became more aware and interested in autism and different learning disabilities with the clients I taught, which gave me more of an understanding of the different challenges and needs they face, and how animals can be a great tool for giving confidence and a sense of well-being.

Outside of work, I enjoy spending time with family, my two dogs, Myrtle and Sally and my horse, Frodo. I enjoy watching live music, playing darts, where I am the captain of a local ladies’ teams, as well as baking and gardening.

Hellena Middleton – Assistant Educational Psychologist

My role is as an Assistant Educational Psychologist within Kisimul’s adult services and college provision, Calman Colaiste, joining the team in 2019 having relocated to Lincoln from Bolton.

I previously worked for a company in Manchester which provided residential care for traumatised children where my role as a therapeutic parent progressed to a senior therapeutic parent. Before this, I completed my Bachelors of Science in Psychology obtaining a 2:1 and my Masters degree in Clinical Applications of Psychology to a Merit standard, both from The University of Hull.

Within the care sector, I have also volunteered in Romania, Where the individuals I supported had severe learning and physical disabilities. This experience gave me an insight into different countries and their ways of supporting individuals with additional needs.

I have a particular interest in anxiety, depression and self-injury/self-harming behaviours and am currently expanding my knowledge of these conditions and behaviours from my work in Kisimul adult services. Future aspirations include working with those who present with special educational needs and improving their quality of life and mental wellbeing.

My interests include reading, walking my pug, staycations (when the weather allows it!) and playing games. I also enjoy light yoga as part of a mindfulness approach. I enjoy keeping myself busy!

Holly Riley – Assistant Educational Psychologist

My work for Kisimul began in 2019, based at the Swinderby site. This was my first experience of working with young people with autism and learning disabilities and the role has developed my interest in supporting individuals with additional needs. My favourite part of the role is that we are able to make a difference and improve the quality of life of the young people we support.

I began to develop an interest in psychology in my teenage years and knew I wanted to pursue this career at this point. I studied BSc Psychology and Sociology at Sheffield Hallam University, where I discovered my passion for all things Psychology before going on to complete my MSc at Nottingham Trent University in Psychological Wellbeing and Mental Health, graduating in 2019.

Previous roles have included working as a support worker for adults with mental health difficulties and I volunteered for an eating disorders charity providing peer support to students with eating difficulties and disorders.

In my spare time I love to do anything that involves food, enjoy exploring new restaurants as well as cooking and baking at home. I also enjoy reading and love a good series on Netflix!

Hannah Watson - Assistant Educational Psychologist

Following my graduation from the University of Leicester with a degree in Psychology, I worked in several schools supporting young people with additional needs and helping them to overcome the challenges that they faced. This instigated my interest in working with young people with complex needs.

I joined Kisimul in 2008 as a member of the Psychology team and have worked in both Swinderby and Acacia schools. The fact that I have been able to attend numerous courses and training events to increase my knowledge and to further support the young people who I work with has been enormously beneficial. I am currently undertaking a Diploma in Pathological Demand Avoidance and look forward to being able to use this to benefit our some of our young people. At present I am also developing my knowledge in the area of attachment and trauma.

Collaborative working with the other therapeutic services and wider multi- disciplinary team to support the young people overcome their barriers to learning is an enjoyable aspect of the job, helping people to reach their full potential and leading a happy and fulfilled life. My role is diverse and challenging, which I also enjoy.

In my spare time I am kept busy with my two boys. We love going out and exploring new places and seeing new things and I enjoy trips to the theatre and spending time with friends and family.

Gemma Armstrong - Lead Assistant Educational Psychologist

Following the completion of my degree in Criminology and Psychology at the University of Lincoln, I joined Kisimul Group in September 2009. Initially, I worked as a Residential Support Worker in a number of living areas at the Swinderby site. This is where I found my passion for working with young people with severe learning disabilities and autism, and knew this was what I wanted to continue to do. In 2012 I became an Assistant Educational Psychologist working across both the Swinderby and Acacia school sites, before taking on the position of Lead Assistant Educational Psychologist in 2017.

I have a passion for psychology and education and love making a difference to the young people I support on a daily basis. Lots of opportunities to develop my knowledge by attending courses and training continue to present themselves, as well and keeping current with new research and courses of interest in my own time.

I am very proud to work for Kisimul Group and have seen Kisimul change the lives of many young people and their families. Every day is different and brings about new challenges, making this a great role that remains fresh and exciting.

In my personal time I enjoy looking after my two young children, renovating my home, walking and exploring, reading and socialising with friends and family.

Emily Harris – Assistant Educational Psychologist

An Assistant Educational Psychologist based at Swinderby School, I started at Kisimul in November 2019 after moving to Lincoln from Birmingham.

I have a BSc in Psychology and an MSc in Developmental Disorders from the University of Nottingham, and my most recent research project focused on the experience of ASD diagnosis from the perspective of adults with autism. Throughout university, I was always interested in Educational Psychology and particularly SEN education, so this role felt like a perfect fit for me.

Before starting with Kisimul, I was for two years a personal assistant to a young person with cerebral palsy. I also had a voluntary role as External Liaison Officer for a charity that takes young people with disabilities on day trips and residential weekends. This role nurtured my interest in autism and gave me my first hands-on experience working with young people with behaviours that challenge.

Outside of work, I enjoy running and completed my first marathon a couple of years ago. I like reading, doing yoga and spending time with my family back in Birmingham.

Dr Rebecca Docherty – Consultant Educational Psychologist

As the Consultant Educational Psychologist – a role I began in 2018 – I work across three sites and supervise the practice in which our assistant educational psychologists operate. It is great to be part of a team that works so collaboratively and who are such a fabulous group of young people.

We support the psychological development of our young people and work to reduce barriers to learning. The needs of our young people are complex and at times some extra support is helpful to clarify what those barriers might be and how to move forward.

We offer direct interventions for young people, as well as offering training to the adults working with the young people on a daily basis.

I started my career as a class teacher, giving me direct experience in the classroom, and loved being a teacher and working directly with young people, but was also keen to learn more about Psychology.

Gaining my doctorate in Educational Psychology, I initially worked in, Scotland and developed training across the authority for effective work with teaching assistants, as well as establishing Nurturing Practice within the authority – a way to support children who have experienced relational trauma.

On returning to England, I spend a short period as a senior lecturer at The University of Lincoln. Here, I helped to set up and taught on a PGCE for trainee secondary teachers.

Now working in independent practice, alongside my work with Kisimul, I’m learning from our young people everyday and love seeing their progression and learning gains.

Alex Robinson – Assistant Educational Psychologist

Having previously been a support worker in a number of residential areas, I joined Kisimul School, Swinderby Site in 2012. Two years later, I became a Senior Residential Support Worker, joining the Psychology team on a part-time basis.

Before joining Kisimul, I received a first-class undergraduate degree in Psychology with Child Studies from the University of Lincoln, having always wanted to work with young people. I also enjoyed volunteering in special educational needs schools assisting with Duke of Edinburgh groups whilst at university.

Working with a range of young people as a support worker was particularly fulfilling, assisting them to develop skills, build relationships and access the community. In 2014 I joined the Psychology team full-time as an Assistant Educational Psychologist before leaving in 2016 to travel around South-East Asia, returning to the school two years later.

As an Assistant Educational Psychologist, I am part of the multi-disciplinary team, working in collaboration with other members of the education support team, education staff and with residential staff to provide cohesive support for our young people. I enjoy the direct intervention work that I have been involved in, particularly supporting individuals to develop their emotional literacy, self-identity, play skills, and emotional regulation, and have also been involved in delivering literacy interventions. Within my role I have been offered further professional development through courses and have attended a number of training days and conferences. I find learning about anxiety, mental health and emotional literacy particularly interesting.

Young people thrive at Kisimul through the environments, strategies and opportunities we provide. I am very proud to work for the company and enjoy the variety of tasks my role brings.

In my spare time I enjoy exploring other cultures and food through travel, reading detective and psychology books and baking cupcakes, which often find themselves coming into the office.

Rebecca Docherty - Educational Psychotherapist

I am the consultant Educational Psychologist, working across three sites and supervising the practice our assistant educational psychologists in.

I have worked with Kisimul since 2018 and have thoroughly enjoyed my time here so far. It is great to be part of a team that works so collaboratively and such a fabulous group of young people.

We support the psychological development of our young people and work to reduce barriers to learning. The needs of our young people are complex and at times some extra support is helpful to clarify what those barriers might be and how to move forward.

We offer direct interventions for young people, as well as offering training to the adults working with the young people on a daily basis.

I started my career as a class teacher, giving me direct experience in the classroom. I loved being a teacher and working directly with young people, but was also keen to learn more about Psychology.

Gaining my doctorate in Educational Psychology, I initially worked in Moray, Scotland and developed training across the authority for effective work with teaching assistants, as well as establishing Nurturing Practice within the authority. This is a way to support children who have experienced relational trauma.

On returning to England, I spend a short period as a senior lecturer at The University of Lincoln. Here, I helped to set up and taught on a PGCE for trainee secondary teachers.

I now work in independent practice, alongside my work with Kisimul. I’m learning from our young people everyday and love seeing their progression and learning gains.

Bibiana Kayd - Speech and Language Therapy Assistant

Since joining the Kisimul Group team in 2018, I have worked I work as a Speech and Language Therapy Assistant (SLTA). The training opportunities I have been given have enabled me to acquire the new skills that are needed in the SLTA role, and I have completed PECS training, Intensive interaction training, Makaton training and using high tech AAC.

Previously I worked as a support worker for adults with learning disabilities and/or autism, as well as working in a school as a teaching assistant. The skills I have gained in previous roles are beneficial, as I can transfer them to my current job.

Having gained a degree in Psychology, I am also studying at the University of Birmingham MEd Special Education Autism (Adults). I combine my knowledge and skills in my work to create a safe, communication rich environment for positive social interaction and communication for the young people and adults we support.

In my free time, I sing in a rock choir. I am also a trustee and a secretary of the charity Newark and District Mencap.

Georgina Agar - Speech and Language Therapy Assistant

My role at Kisimul began in 2019, delivering sessions such as Makaton choir and sensory stories, and I am currently working at Acacia Hall as a Speech and Language Therapy Assistant (SLTA). I have had the opportunity to attend lots of further training to improve my knowledge and skill set, so that I can confidently work with our young people and adults.

Previously, I trained and worked in musical theatre, before leaving the UK to work abroad. My travels have taken me to locations such as Egypt and Lapland, where I even worked with Santa Claus! I did various performances as well as teaching play and learn sessions, snorkeling instructing and climbing.  My work also took me to China, where I taught English as a foreign language, became a teacher trainer and helped collate the music curriculum and training package. I also taught music, dance and drama in Vietnam

On returning to the UK I began a job as a Neurological Rehabilitation Assistant, working as part of a multidisciplinary team, gaining knowledge of brain damage, epilepsy, strokes, Huntington’s disease and dysphagia and how to help those in need still live as much of an ordinary, happy life as possible.

My aim is to develop my career working with people requiring extra support and care and to continue with my own personal and professional development.

In my spare time I like to see friends and family, but most of all I like to seek adventure!

Jackie Rowntree - Speech and Language Therapy Assistant

I joined the Kisimul Group in 2006 as an ICT Co-ordinator based at the lower school in Swinderby. Here, I supported young children to access and gain knowledge using assistive technology and enjoyed preparing videos of our young people for their annual reviews to show families the skills that they were developing and the great progress they were making.

Over the years, myself and a colleague have lead initiatives such a student council, annual graduation and prom ceremonies and also support on the Kisimul Events Committee, which organised the Christmas and summer fayres and annual staff parties.

In 2013 I became a Speech and Language Therapy Assistant, and really enjoy supporting our young people in an individualised bespoke approach and adapting methods to ensure they receive the very best care and learning environment. It has given me the opportunity to expand my knowledge and experience by completing a vast range of training courses that include PECS level 1 & 2, Makaton including Foundation, Enhancement, Safeguarding and Sing and Sign workshops, Intensive Interaction and a number of Elklan accredited courses. I also enjoy delivering communication training to staff within the company.

Outside of work, I enjoy spending time with my family, socialising with friends and I am known for being a ‘travelholic’.

Kristie Fish - Lead Speech and Language Therapy Assistant

After graduating from University with a degree in Linguistics, Communication and Society, I began working for Kisimul Group 11 years ago.  My first role was a Residential Support worker at Swinderby, getting to know the young people before transitioning to the Speech and Language Therapy team which had always been an aspiration of mine. From here, I spent time working across both upper and lower schools and across the Adult service, as well as part of the Multi-Disciplinary team with our on-site Occupational Therapy, Music Therapy and Educational Psychology teams.

My role has given me experience of working with a variety of Speech and Language Therapists, young people and different forms of AAC, which has enabled me to develop my knowledge of the communication difficulties young people with autism face. I have been lucky to have been given the opportunity to learn new skills and have undertaken further training whilst at Kisimul including PECS levels 1+2, Makaton including Foundation, Enhancement, Safeguarding and Sing and Sign workshops, Talktools, PODD, Intensive Interaction, AAC Levels 1+2, and have begun my Assistant Dysphagia Practitioner training as well as having attended many courses relating to sensory feeding challenges of children with autism.  I have a keen interest in interventions, which incorporate sensory elements and enjoy planning and delivering creative interventions which excite and enthuse our young people as well as an interest in the use of high tech AAC.

Outside of work, I enjoy spending time at home on the farm with my young family, dogs, cats and chickens and baking up lots of treats for everyone to enjoy.

Libby Cooper – Head of Therapy

I am the Lead Speech and Language Therapist at Woodstock House School, and joined the Kisimul team in May 2020 to lead the provision of Speech and Language Therapy services at Woodstock.  My role is to ensure high quality, efficient and evidence-based practice is delivered to the students I am passionate about working collaboratively with staff in both care and education, promoting the wellbeing and best interests of all the students. My role also means I am also responsible for supervising the therapists and therapy assistants on the team and supporting with professional development.

I have previously worked in NHS services, developing and leading service provision within specialist settings for children with complex needs, as well as working in Resource Provisions and community clinics. My work has given me experience of using a wide range of therapeutic approaches including Intensive Interaction, Attention Autism, PECS, and a wide range of alternative and augmentative communication approaches, both paper-based and devices.

I qualified to be an SLT in 2007 when I graduated from University College London, and have since gained further certification as a Dysphagia Specialist and a Makaton Regional Tutor. I have also participated in training to develop my leadership and managerial skills to ensure effective and compassionate team and service management.

When not at work I enjoy hiking, baking, snowboarding and spending time with family and friends. I am also passionate about yoga and hope to add another string to my bow by qualifying as a yoga teacher someday.

Nicola Pelling – Speech and Language Therapy Assistant

My career at Kisimul began in 1997. Since then, I have witnessed the progress the young people have made with our support, which has just amazed me, and I have remained as committed to helping the young people in our care reach their potential.

My time here has seen me fulfil various roles, including Residential Support Worker, Teaching Assistant and Senior Teaching Assistant and then in 2005 Speech and Language Therapy Assistant. Through Kisimul I enrolled at John Leggott College in 2007 and gained the BTEC Advanced Speech and Language Therapy Assistant qualification, which confirmed for me I was working within the right discipline.

Finding the right communication system for each individual is something I am passionate about, as I have seen so many times the difference it makes in improving an individual’s quality of life, building resilience in children and those who support them.

We are a busy, multi-disciplinary department and thrive on seeing our involvement improve the quality of the lives of the young people we support and their families. I have primarily worked at the Lower school but have also had the opportunity to support the Adult homes, including some of the adults that are now in their late 30s that I supported as children.

My personal development has seen me undertake a wealth of courses and qualifications such as PECS level 1 & 2, Makaton, Intensive Interaction, Colourful semantics, and Grid player

I have also played an active role in other ways within the Kisimul Group including various after school activities/clubs and holiday clubs, and am part of the Events Committee where I have a role in organising events for the young people such as graduation, Prom and fayres.

Outside of work I enjoy spending time with my family and planning our next adventure.

Sophie Grayson - Speech and Language Therapy Assistant

Graduating from the University of Lincoln in 2015, my studies in English and drama prepared me for a career supporting and facilitating those with additional needs. My journey at Kisimul began in 2016, and during that time I have worked across the school, residential and therapy teams at both Swinderby and Acacia Hall.

I have always been a keen learner, volunteering with a SEND playscheme at the age of 14, and in my role as a Speech and Language Therapy Assistant I have been lucky to access many training and education opportunities. My personal favourites have been the Carol Gray’s Social Stories workshop and gaining my Dinghy Sailing Level 2 which has allowed me to support our young people complete their bronze Duke of Edinburgh award in sailing.

I am keen to undertaking the Speech Therapy Masters in the near future and am grateful for the opportunities provided to me that have helped me develop both personally and professionally.

In my spare time I like to indulge in good food, travelling, outdoor pursuits, and spending time with my cat, Tuesday.

Abi Carey - Specialist Speech and Language Therapist

Since qualifying in 2017 as a Speech and Language Therapist, I have pursued a career specialising in Learning Disability and Autistic Spectrum Condition, joining Kisimul Group in 2019, working across the Swinderby and Acacia Schools. My clinical experience includes working in a college for adults with individual needs, developing functional communication skills to allow for the fullest community integration and independence. I am passionate about supporting the development of functional communication that is meaningful and motivating for the young person.

Exploring creative and individual methods of communication is what I enjoy as they provide the adaptation that the young people we support require. This interest in alternative communication inspired me to pursue my Regional Makaton Tutor qualification. I also use approaches such as Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS), Attention Autism, Lego-based Therapy, Social Stories, Colourful Semantics and Intensive Interaction. As an enthusiastic MDT member, I am excited to be a part of the varied and skillful team that Kisimul group offers, which allows for innovative and individualised support.

Emmy Birkin - Specialist Speech and Language Therapist

After qualifying as a Speech and Language Therapist in 2016, I initially worked with a varied caseload of two to 16-year-olds with a range of speech, language and communication needs including dyspraxia, ASD, genetic disorders, Down’s Syndrome, brain injury, stroke and Developmental Language Disorder. I then began to specialise in intellectual disability and became a specialist in 2018.

My special interest is in working closely with other professionals such as Occupational Therapists in order to deliver integrated therapy approaches such as Zones of Regulation. I have experience of a range of other approaches including Social Thinking, LEGO therapy, Attention Autism and SCERTS, and enjoy continually evaluating and evolving the care that I give and ensuring that it is person-centred and functional.

Nikki Williams – Newly Qualified Speech and Language Therapist

I have recently qualified as a speech and language therapist from De Montfort University. During my time at University, I completed many placements in a variety of settings. I found my placements involving young people and adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder and Learning Disabilities the most fascinating and the most rewarding. I was, therefore, extremely excited to apply for a role in this area after I graduated earlier this year.

I started my role with Kisimul in August 2020 and am keen to develop my practice to provide the best possible and most effective care for the individuals within this service. I am also enthusiastic in joint-working with other professionals and staff to provide a holistic approach.

Nikki Williams – Newly Qualified Speech and Language Therapist

I have recently qualified as a speech and language therapist from De Montfort University. During my time at University, I completed many placements in a variety of settings. I found my placements involving young people and adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder and Learning Disabilities the most fascinating and the most rewarding. I was, therefore, extremely excited to apply for a role in this area after I graduated earlier this year.

I started my role with Kisimul in August 2020 and am keen to develop my practice to provide the best possible and most effective care for the individuals within this service. I am also enthusiastic in joint-working with other professionals and staff to provide a holistic approach.

Andrei Celik - Music Therapist

My musical career at Kisimul began in 2010, before which I had undertaken my Music Therapy Post Graduate training at the University of Surrey, from where I qualified in 2004. My training background is broadly psychodynamic and has led me towards more developmental ways of thinking about those I am working with, alongside their sensory processing issues and emotional worlds. Attachment theory has also informed the overall approach to my work.

My specialism is autism, working with those who have complex issues around communication and interaction and who are “hard to reach”.  I tailor my approaches to meet the wide range of needs presented by those I am working with. Within the sessions I encourage their development of a wide range of skills, such as increasing self-awareness, emotional regulation, building confidence and self-esteem, developing spontaneity, reducing rigid or repetitive patterns of behaviour and increasing attention span and concentration.

Since qualifying I have been continually in full time employment, initially between two employers, the Nottinghamshire Healthcare NHS Trust (Learning Disability Directorate) and Nottingham Music Space (a registered charity). The combination of these two posts gave me an early opportunity to gain considerable clinical experience across a diverse client group.

On the closure of Nottingham Music Space, on whose behalf I had also done some work at Kisimul’s Swinderby site, I was offered a full- time contract with the Kisimul Group At this time Kisimul were keen to expand Music Therapy provision to their other schools, at which point I started working between Swinderby, Acacia and Woodstock. Since then I have enjoyed being part of the overall organisation of the Kisimul Group and have formed close working relationships with staff across all the schools.

I am a member of The British Association of Music Therapists (BAMT) and am registered with the HCPC. Additionally, I am an active musician, playing in various groups and ensembles across the jazz and classical music scenes.

Steve Walton - Music Therapist

My first role at Kisimul in 2005 was working as a music facilitator delivering weekly sessions that integrate within the school’s core curriculum and ethos. In July 2017, I achieved a first-class masters degree in Music Therapy and shortly after registered with the HCPC to be a qualified Music Therapist.

Currently, I manage both individual and group work across three schools, a college and adult provisions. With such a varied caseload, I need to be very flexible in adapting a wide range of approaches in order to meet the needs of our young people. Music Therapy at Kisimul uses mainly live, improvised music to achieve non-musical clinical objectives and at the heart of the work is the relationship between the young person and therapist as we work towards specific therapeutic objectives such as cognitive, social and emotional development.

Some of my earliest memories as a child were watching my father play the guitar to the whole family. I distinctly remember many evenings sitting on the floor, listening and taking part in a range of songs, exploring instruments and expressing in such a way that brought about a sense of togetherness. The very essence of musical interaction is one of the reasons that Music Therapy can be such a potent tool in facilitating a means of human connection which subsequently increases well-being and mental health.

In my spare time I enjoy flying, peaceful country walks with my three crazy dogs and a spot of adventurous travel on my motorbike. As music is such an integral part of my life, I often play in bands and on occasion, indulge in a bit of song writing myself. It’s true what they say, music really is ‘food for the soul’.

Tiffany Saxon-Kyte - Art Psychotherapist

I am a qualified HCPC registered Art Psychotherapist, holding a Masters in Art Psychotherapy from Roehampton University. I offer 1:1 and group art therapy interventions for children and young people, experiencing social emotional and behavioural difficulties. I work in a variety of education settings and have experience of working with young people with a range of needs. I work collaboratively with individuals, aiming to provide a warm and empathic therapeutic relationship. My practice focuses on the needs of the young person inclusive of ethnic, cultural and religious background; is gender sensitive, anti-discriminatory and anti-oppressive. At its core, my practice aims to hear the voice of the young person, valuing the diversity of background and experience of the individual.

My work is grounded in attachment theory and child development, focusing on the relational interactions involved in the dynamics of the therapeutic relationship, engaging the young person in creativity through art materials and images. Children and young people sometimes struggle to put their feelings into words, within art psychotherapy sessions, the art materials provide a tangible and creative space to explore and share unheard narratives, make sense of feelings, conflicts, and concerns and build on abilities and interests. My practice therefore holds an ability to explore early relational states that may not have words to the experience – explored through art expression involving sensory and cognitive channels of communication.

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