Eight-year-old Arabella Halls loves crafting, princesses, unicorns, fairies, mermaids, and most of all she loves the colour pink.
Arabella has a twin brother named Xander, who she loves, and a large friendship group at school who are inclusive of her in their activities, and will often have their birthday parties at locations that are accessible to Arabella’s needs.
In 2015, Arabella was diagnosed with Spinal Muscular Atrophy type 2, a condition which affects the nerves that control muscle movement. That same year, Arabella partnered with Rocky Bay where she accesses intensive physiotherapy, speech and occupational therapy sessions, hydrotherapy intervention.
Arabella also started to access Rocky Bay’s Community services in Gosnells during the Christmas school holidays, where she enjoyed day trips and experiences such as ten pin bowling, the Swan Valley Cuddly Animal Farm for her birthday in January, and shopping where she spent her birthday and Christmas money.
“Arabella doesn’t let her disability define her and is a rather independent person when she wants to be. She will try and do something until she is unable to, then she will ask for help,” says Arabella’s mum, Kay Van Den Hoogen.
At Rocky Bay, Arabella’s goal is to be able to mobilise independently and to be safe, supported and comfortable throughout her day.
Rocky Bay Allied Health Team Leader and Occupational Therapist, Nicky Ellis, explains that Arabella receives high intensity therapy delivered via different methods that meet her needs, and as a result has made considerable gains during her time with Rocky Bay.
“Arabella and her family are supported to understand her condition, access to school, and her engagement in an enriching life,” Nicky said.
Arabella’s therapy is tailored specifically to support her skill acquisition in school-based tasks, mobility and independence skills. Her physiotherapy regime also includes regular school-based physiotherapy, which Kay explains is slotted as seamlessly as possible into Arabella’s school-day.
“While her class is at sport, Arabella does a therapy session in her classroom with her physiotherapist,” Kay said.
“She will do floor activities working on skills to assist with maintaining some of her remaining functions, and she enjoys it as it’s her usual physiotherapist who she adores.”
Arabella also attends weekly hydrotherapy sessions at her local pool in Riverton, and uses Rocky Bay’s hydrotherapy pool at Mosman Park hub during the school holidays, making the most of her love for the water where she is able to develop new skills.
“Arabella has gone from needing full support in the water to being able to float, doggy paddle, breath to the side and turn over in the water,” Rocky Bay Physiotherapist, Amy Piesse, said.
“Her lung function testing has improved significantly and her mum reports that she sleeps really well on the nights after hydrotherapy.”
Kay explained that one of Arabella’s favourite places to be is in the pool, as it allows her to move around like all of her friends.
“She will often complain rather loudly about having to get out of the water. I often refer to Arabella as being a mermaid as she can’t walk on land, but she is at home in the water.”
Arabella’s Rocky Bay therapy team continue to work on her independent floor mobility, such as crawling, lying to sitting up and transfers.
Arabella and Kay have particularly enjoyed the opportunity to switch some of Arabella’s speech and occupational to online teletherapy, which has been a huge hit!
The catalyst was when COVID-19 hit Western Australia in 2020, and Arabella and her family were thrusted into an unfamiliar world. Kay said it was a big change and a huge learning curve for Arabella and herself, which turned into a great opportunity to access services a little differently.
“We had really only done therapy during school holidays, or had to take time off of school as it was too far and tiring (for Arabella) to do after school,” Kay said, explaining that fatigue is a huge factor in Arabella’s life and how they plan their time.
“Arabella already misses so much time with hospital appointments and illness-related time off, so when we were given the chance to try online therapy we jumped at it.
“Once we learned the systems (we alternated between Zoom and Microsoft Teams) we grew to love it and we noticed that Arabella was responding well and enjoying seeing her therapist on the screen; it wasn’t causing huge amounts of fatigue like traveling would have.”
Arabella also received speech pathology services with Rocky Bay Speech Pathologist, Lauren Constantine, who has seen Arabella advance her skills in sounding out words.
“Arabella has really increased her confidence to attempt most aspects of working with sounds and words,” Lauren said.
“She is increasing the length and complexity of the sentences she makes and writes, and can create complex and interesting stories.
“At the beginning of speech intervention, Arabella was reluctant to sound out any word with a ‘blend’ sound at the beginning (such as ‘drum’). Now, after working on this skill for the past year, Arabella can sound out words with three blend sounds at the beginning or end with full accuracy.”
Arabella will also soon receive a powered wheelchair which will greatly increase her physical comfort and support, and with her improved independent mobility, Arabella will also be better able to reposition herself for comfort.
“We have had our equipment serviced through Rocky Bay Equipment, but otherwise we have everything funded through either CAEP funding or the NDIS,” Kay said.
“We have also donated some of our used equipment to Rocky Bay’s equipment pool for other families to utilise.”
Arabella’s therapy team continue to provide ongoing support to help her reach her goals, including liaising with Perth Children’s Hospital and supporting Arabella at school, assisting with transfers, activity modification recommendations and importantly, advocating for Arabella’s ongoing therapy, respite and equipment needs.
“Both Arabella and myself could not be any happier with the services we receive through Rocky Bay. We have had some amazing staff over the past five years,” Kay said.
“Overall we love the support that we receive from Rocky Bay and I will always recommend their services to anyone who may be in need of a provider.”