Kate Pollard and Ashleigh O'Loughlin, two young speech pathologists pioneering diagnostics for children with autism and fetal alcohol syndrome have been recognised in the NT's prestigious disability award.
In the face of critical funding shortages, a lack of resources and not nearly enough qualified medical staff on the ground, they have changed the scope for hundreds of people living with disabilities in Katherine.
Just over a year into their operation, they have been highly commended in the 2019 Excellence in Innovation award, at the NT Disability Services and Inclusion Awards on November 2.
Missing out by a sliver on the winning spot to Henbury School for students with disabilities, it is an award Katherine has long struggled to gain recognition in.
With a combined eight plus years working on the ground in some of the most disadvantaged communities in Australia, Ms Pollard and Ms O'loughlin are the trailblazers to watch.
"We were coming across a lot of kids who were going undiagnosed and in turn, not receiving support or funding," Ms Pollard said.
Young children in Katherine, and even adults were dealing with sometimes debilitating disabilities as they waited years for a diagnosis.
With hundreds of kilometres between help, it was a case of un-linked services and not nearly enough trained professionals ready and able to make assessments.
"A diagnosis involves a range of specialists who can gather really important information and provide it to a pediatrician to make a final diagnosis," Ms O'Loughlin said.
"There was a really serious service gap because the Katherine region is just so large and it is difficult to get everyone together to work on the one child.
"We have streamlined that process."
For the first time in the Northern Territory, people with autism and fetal alcohol syndrome have access to Gold Standard Diagnostics - a benchmark all other states achieved years ago.
The pair have established a working model which also allows specialists to see people in some of the most remote communities in Australia, where services are lacking despite particular need.
They brought occupational therapists and a physiotherapist on board to close the service gap, secured funding and fought for staff to receive vital training.
Where there was once a long and difficult pathway for people needing a diagnosis, is now a clinic of specialists working together.
"We have both seen situations where a person left undiagnosed is unfairly labeled and isn't receiving the help they need, and that is just not fair," Ms O'Loughlin said.
"It is a passion project for both of us, we believe people's needs should be recognised to allow them to live their lives to the fullest potential."
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