Mum points way to a dream ca­reer

Southern Gazette (South Perth) - - Victoria Park - Emma Young

IT took PhD stu­dent Fiona Al­lan­son time to ap­pre­ci­ate the old adage that mother knows best.

Her mother’s job in the field of work­ers com­pen­sa­tion con­vinced her that her daugh­ter was des­tined to study the com­plex sub­ject of ac­quired brain in­juries.

Ms Al­lan­son has since com­pleted her hon­ours de­gree and has now won the Lyn Bea­z­ley Bright­wa­ter Schol­ar­ship, which is en­abling her to com­plete her PhD at Bright­wa­ter Care Group’s ac­quired brain in­jury fa­cil­ity in East Vic­to­ria Park.

“As you do when you’re 16, I just ig­nored her,” she said.

“When I fin­ished school I did com­mu­ni­ca­tions, did one year and re­alised I hated it.”

Ms Al­lan­son switched to psy­chol­ogy and one day had a break­through mo­ment while lis­ten­ing to a lec­ture about at­ten­tion prob­lems after brain in­jury.

“I sud­denly re­alised I was on the edge of my seat, think­ing, ‘tell me more’, she said.

“I had to go home and tell mum she was right.”

Brain in­jury pa­tients, such as the 45 peo­ple liv­ing at Bright­wa­ter, ex­pe­ri­enced prob­lems with their mem­o­ries and abil­ity to plan, prob­lem­solve and make de­ci­sions.

“I’m see­ing if we can tar­get those skills through in­ter­ven­tion and train­ing, tak­ing a sci­en­tific, sys­tem­atic ap­proach to de­cid­ing what to fo­cus on,” she said.

“Ev­ery per­son is dif­fer­ent and ev­ery in­jury is dif­fer­ent, so de­sign­ing in­ter­ven­tions is dif­fi­cult.”

Ms Al­lan­son’s work be­gins with math­e­mat­i­cal anal­y­sis of pre­vi­ous re­search to iso­late what skills – for ex­am­ple, ver­bal, writ­ten or visual mem­ory, or “ex­ec­u­tive” cog­ni­tive func­tions such as “think­ing about think­ing” – are most im­por­tant to every­day func­tion­ing.

Ms Al­lan­son says she al- ready feels at home at Bright­wa­ter, hav­ing worked there in a dis­abil­ity support role while study­ing for her de­gree.

She has helped res­i­dents re­learn life skills, such as dress­ing, cook­ing, plan­ning, keep­ing track of ap­point­ments and nav­i­gat­ing pub­lic trans­port, the kind of skills she hopes to fur­ther build by de­vel­op­ing more ef­fec­tive treat­ments.

“I’ve found work­ing here to be one of the most re­ward­ing ex­pe­ri­ences of my life,” she said.

“There are no ‘eureka’ mo­ments, but over a long pe­riod of time, you re­alise you’ve made a dif­fer­ence.”

Pic­ture: David Baylis

Fiona Al­lan­son says work­ing with peo­ple with ac­quired brain in­juries has been very re­ward­ing.

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