EYC 2020 Speakers and Contributors

Vicki Bitsika AM


Professor Vicki Bitsika has specialised in the assessment and treatment of challenging behaviour in people with neurodevelopmental disability, mental ill-health, and behavioural disorder for over 30 years. She is a Clinical Psychologist who has consulted in schools and Human Service facilities in Australia and Internationally, with a focus on the development of training services for disability and mental-health professionals, and techniques for addressing complex behavioural difficulties. She was Founder and Director of the Centre for Autism Spectrum Disorder, at Bond University from 2010 to 2019, before joining Biomedical Sciences at UNE.

Professor Bitsika was awarded an Australian Learning and Teaching Council citation in 2009 for “exemplary translation of clinical practice into development of hands-on, innovative, and student-focused curriculum and teaching techniques in Behaviour Management”. She received a Winston Churchill Fellowship in 2010 to investigate specialised intervention technologies for children and adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorder in the USA and UK. In 2016, Professor Bitsika was made a Member of the Order of Australia (AM)for “significant service to tertiary education in the field of Autism Spectrum Disorders, as an academic, and as a supporter of people with disabilities”.

Presentation:  What we know about anxiety and its impacts on daily functioning in children with ASD

Workshop:  Building low-anxiety learning contexts for children with ASD

Dr Sarah Verdon, PhD 


Dr Sarah Verdon graduated with her PhD from Charles Sturt University in December 2015. She is a Senior Lecturer and Research Fellow in the Faculty of Science at Charles Sturt University. Sarah is a speech pathologist and early childhood researcher who is passionate about embracing the diversity of children from different cultures, languages, geographic areas, socioeconomic backgrounds and levels of ability to create equitable opportunities for all children to have a strong start to life and reach their full potential. Sarah specialises in research regarding children’s speech, language and literacy development in culturally and linguistically diverse contexts. Sarah’s PhD research across five continents resulted in the development of the Principles of Culturally Competent Practice, a framework to guide culturally responsive practice when supporting culturally and linguistically diverse children with communication needs. These principles have since been adopted as the basis of scientific research and professional development programs across a range of health and education disciplines both in Australia and around the world including the US, New Zealand, China, South Africa, Canada and Malaysia. 

Sarah is co-chair of The International Expert Panel on Multilingual Children’s Speech consisting of 60 experts in the fields of multilingualism and child speech from 30 different countries to support professional practice with children from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. She oversaw the development the Speech Pathology Australia national position paper and clinical guidelines for “working in a culturally and linguistically diverse society” and also hosts the “Talking Children Podcast”. Sarah also applies her research and skills in a volunteer capacity as a director of the Trinh Foundation Australia, an Australian-based international not-for-profit organisation whose mission is to develop speech therapy in Vietnam.

Supporting children’s early communication development through culturally responsive practice

An understanding of children’s communication development across contexts is essential for supporting their development social, emotional and academic development and to prepare children to engage in formal education. This is true for both monolingual and multilingual children. The task is seemingly more complex when children are from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds as professionals are less confident in understanding and supporting multilingual communication development. It is known that people from non-dominant language and cultural backgrounds are less likely to access health services. This can be due to differences between professionals’ and families’ cultural approaches to communication, health, disability, and child rearing. It can also be due to families’ lack of awareness of the positive impact that early intervention services can have upon a person’s participation in society, education and the workforce. The Principles of Culturally Competent Practice provide a guiding framework for professionals to identify and address potential barriers to enhance families’ engagement in, and experience of, services to support their children’s early development and long term outcomes. This presentation will unpack these Principles and apply them to real world settings optimise effective, culturally responsive practice with increasingly diverse caseloads.

Berne Gibbons – Associate Professor of Industry for the Faculty of Health at UTS Sydney

To be updated.

Zizi Charida – Community Minds


Zizi Charida is the Founder and Director of Community Minds, a not-for profit organisation based in Sydney, Australia, that works with community groups, schools, businesses and organisations, in developing programs that enhance, develop and build connected, inclusive and stronger communities. Community Minds has also designed its own programs that foster genuine community development by placing citizens at the centre of communities not services, since community members are experts in their lives and communities.

Zizi has initiated projects, events and school-based programs that promote Asset Based Community Development (ABCD) approach and principles and is one of the main training areas Zizi provides organisations. Zizi also runs training and workshops on Appreciative Inquiry (AI) across Australia and abroad, teaching teams, organisations and community groups about AI mindset and methodology, applying it to different contexts with the ultimate aim of facilitating positive change in any human system, be it a group, organisation or a whole community.

Workshop 1: The Power of Appreciative Inquiry

Transforming communities through powerful questions and conversations. Appreciative Inquiry is used to generate change through igniting the collective imagination and promoting dialogues that can help collectively shape people’s realities and their vision for the future.

In the words of its primary originator, Dr. David L. Cooperrider of Case Western Reserve University, AI asks us to pay special attention to “the best of the past and present” — in order to “ignite the collective imagination of what might be.”

Appreciative Inquiry invites us to reflect on the past to build the best possible future for our communities. To do this we need to know what’s has worked well in the past and what our strengths are to imagine something better for our organisations and communities.

In this 1-hour session we start with a brief overview of AI and its links to asset-based approach to community development verse a deficit-based approach. This leads to a conversation about the power of positive questioning and storytelling as effective ways to engage stakeholders in change efforts, including a guide conduct appreciative interviews, and the impact of positive questions.

*Presentation & handouts will be provided

Workshop 2: Creating Citizen Driven Communities: using an Asset Based Community Development Approach

A 1-hour introductory workshop for community enthusiasts and community builders with an interest and commitment to Asset Based Community Driven (ABCD) philosophies and methodologies and, who want to gain a deeper understanding of how to utilise the ABCD approach to build and strengthen community from the inside out.

The workshop will provide participants with the theoretical grounding to shift the mindset from ‘client’ to ‘citizen’ and motivate residents to start asking the right questions around what they can do for themselves and their community.

Participants will be engaged in a fun ‘Head, Heart & Hands’ mapping exercise, a great tool to discover the skills and assets of individuals, for the purpose of linking them to community efforts and initiatives.

The workshop will provide an overview of the philosophy, value and practice of ABCD –- Shifting the development mindset from needs and deficiencies to assets and capacities. Focus on assets rather than deficiencies. – Community assets: overview of assets and asset mapping

*Presentation & handouts will be provided 

Rosemary Signorelli – Senior Early childhood Counsellor / Project Officer at STARTTS

Rosemary is a counsellor, psychotherapist, music therapist, and Occupational Therapist. She has over 12 years of experience at STARTTS working with refugees and asylum seekers and has worked with clients across the lifespan, and in a variety of contexts. This has included work with 0-5 year olds with special needs, and with typically developing children. She has also provided OT and music therapy services to children and adults with special needs, for both community service organisations and in private practise.

Previously, Rosemary worked as a senior manager in the aged and community sector, and as a community programmes policy manager for a national organisation. She applies insights and experience from all these areas in her early childhood work. As a music therapist she has been a session leader for the Sing and Grow programme, and has also collaborated with Playgroup NSW to provide a Sing and Grow programme in the Fairfield area in collaboration with STARTTS.

Rosemary has recently become a registered COSP educator, and has previously worked for 6 years as a Kindermusik educator. She has managed many community and aged care services with funding grants from Commonwealth and State Health Departments, and also the WELL programme from DET. 

Lettitia Dean – Northcott ECEI NDIS

Lettitia Dean is a Community Capacity Building Facilitator from Northcott, who are assisting to deliver the Early Childhood Early Intervention (ECEI) Pathway as a Partner in The Community, with the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).

Lettitia has extensive experience and knowledge from her decade within the Early Childhood Industry, working with children 0-6years. Lettitia is passionate about communicating the needs of children and their families making sure they are equipped with the information and services they need to access all supports required to build capacity for themselves and our communities.

Workshop: Supporting families, who have children with developmental and diagnostic concerns, to access the NDIS through the ECEI approach

During this one hour workshop we will explore the Early Childhood Early Intervention pathway, and how we can support families that have concerns surrounding their childs development.

Understand that children under 6 do NOT require a diagnosis to access the pathway. And how Northcott are able to assist you in building the capacity for your community, centre and families. This will be followed by Q&A time