Robyn began her career as a Paediatric Occupational Therapist at Christchurch Hospital. Following the birth of her first daughter, she began working with Patricia Champion in what were the earliest beginnings of the Champion Centre, which was then operating out of St Barnabas Church in Fendalton. Robyn had worked with Dr Terry Caseley, a long-time supporter of the Champion Centre’s work, at Christchurch Hospital; and through him she was introduced to Patricia.
Robyn took her baby to work with her at St Barnabas Church. She remembers taking equipment with her, especially a big therapy ball, which needed re-inflating each time, as it would not fit in the car.
Patricia's work with children with Down syndrome was groundbreaking and Robyn felt privileged to be a part of this and to get to know the amazing group of women who pioneered it with her, including the Centre’s Jan Murphy and Hilary Stock. When I ask Robyn, what attracted her to Occupational Therapy as a profession, she says, ‘I was brought up in the back blocks of the King Country. Work options for women were nursing, teaching and working in the bank, or marrying a farmer. By chance I met an Occupational Therapist at a friend’s house. She told me a little about OT and gave me a pamphlet outlining the training. The pamphlet had a picture of people dancing in a circle on it. I thought that if dancing can be working, then this is for me. I can still manage a mean Ring-a-Rosie!’
Robyn attended a World Occupational Therapy conference in Switzerland in 1970, where she heard about the work of Jean Ayres, the woman who expanded knowledge of the senses and sensory integration. Jean developed Sensory Integrative Therapy. This conference, plus another two years later in Sydney where Jean was presenting, laid the foundation for Robyn’s working career. Robyn worked with the families of infants with Down syndrome in the early 1980’s, which is when she met Jan Murphy (now Clinical Practice Manager). Right from the initial meeting Robyn left an imprint on Jan, ‘Quiet, gentle, respectful, warm and already with a considerable knowledge of human development and more specifically, child development - she brought a richness to our clinical work together,’ says Jan.
Robyn holds strong personal, philosophical and professional values and knowledge around disturbance to development. ‘She always regards children in a holistic way - mind, body, and soul. Robyn was a founding member in establishing the Helios Integrative Medical Centre; a holistic and alternative medical option for all,’ say Jan.
Sensory integration has been the basis of Robyn's work in her private practice and at the Champion Centre. Her work has supported children with developmental and learning challenges as well as those on the autism spectrum. Sensory regulation and sensory integration form the basis of the work in the Relating and Communicating clinics, which have been her work for the last 15 plus years. Highlights for Robyn have been working with Jan Murphy, Rose Robinson and the other amazing therapists who have joined the Relating and Communication work and being able to present this work internationally in New York, Perth and Stockholm. Working with premature babies and their mothers in a pilot study has been another highlight for Robyn. She was also was a founding member of the Dyspraxia Support Group.
Robyn is completely child-centred and nothing will stand in the way of her finding a way of relating to the small child she joins. Jan reflects, ‘she is the most non-judgemental, respectful and committed therapist I know. She brings light, joy, warmth, laughter, hope and a good dose of common sense to all our clinical work. Her focus is not on disability but rather on respecting and valuing everything that makes us human’.
Jan goes on to say, ‘Robyn’s work ethic is beyond description. She works tirelessly and with such generosity of spirit. If there is a need and she can meet that need, she will do it, no questions asked.’
Robyn is retiring from her work at the Champion Centre as the commute from her home in the Lewis Pass is a rather long one. Retiring really means ‘transitioning more fully’ to the rural life – ‘off the grid’ living and conservation efforts as a DOC volunteer, checking traps and helping to maintain huts and tracks. Robyn and her partner, Peter, host cycle tourists as well as having time for grandchildren -- they have eight between them. They look forward to more time tramping and cycling.
Robyn will be greatly missed and we all wish her the best for her time spent with family and on other pursuits.
The Champion Centre is administered by the Christchurch Early Intervention Trust, and is registered with the Chartities Commission (CC22708). Gifts of over $5 are eligible for tax rebates.
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