Danielle AtkinsOccupational Therapist | Hawke's Bay Hospital, New Zealand

    Danielle has worked in neuropaediatrics as an Occupational Therapist across a range of age groups and settings in the UK and New Zealand. She currently holds the Central Region Expert Visiting Neurodevelopmental Therapist (VNT) role. Danielle has a keen passion for working with infants/children and their whānau/families. She is a certificated trainer in the Neonatal Behavioural Assessment Scale (NBAS), the Newborn Behavioural Observation (NBO), and a NZBA Bobath/NDT Tutor. Danielle teaches both nationally and internationally.

    Danielle’s clinical specialties lie in working with high-risk infants, Special Care Baby Unit (SCBU), infant behaviour and infant-parent relationships, neurobehavioural and neurodevelopmental assessment and interventions, developmental care, trauma-informed care, and relationship-based interventions, as well as follow up after discharge. She has over 15 years’ experience working with parents and infants alongside the MDT in the SCBU at Hawkes Bay Hospital. Her private practice involves working with infants/children who have experienced trauma in their lives through abuse, non-accidental injury and/or who have neurological impairment.

    Danielle’s current ‘changemaker’ activities includes consulting on the New Zealand ‘Practice Recommendations for the Follow-up of Newborn Infants at High Risk of Abnormal Neurodevelopmental Outcome’, leading the Central Region workforce development project to ensure equitable VNT follow-up care for preterm and high-risk infants and families, and leading the provision of expert clinical coaching and education to VNTs across the Central Region.

    Presentation | Whakawhanaunga[1] / Relationships: The ‘active ingredient’ in Child Development

    The brain’s most primitive role is to ensure survival.  Infants respond to perceived or actual threats that trigger chemical, structural and behavioural changes, regardless of intention or medical necessity. Early adversity disrupts brain development by limiting experience-expectant plasticity, this changes brain structure and derails development and impacts on long-term health and wellbeing.  The primary source of infant trauma in the SCBU/NICU is maternal separation.  Maternal separation and socio-emotional neglect alter brain structures responsible for processing stress and threat and has been linked to neurodevelopmental and later neuropsychiatric disorders in adulthood. However, brain plasticity or the way the brain experiences development can be leveraged to improve outcomes.

    This presentation will focus on the integration of a relationship-based, trauma-informed approach to the developmental follow up of preterm and high-risk infants and their families in the neonatal nursery and community. Attending to and building the capabilities of parents / carers and health professionals who care for and support infants, to provide responsive, positive, warm and sensitive parenting and therapeutic relationships can nurture the development of resilience; associated with better developmental outcomes.

    [1]  to have a relationship / having good relations, get to know one another, get along with, nurturing good relations (Maori Dictionary: https://maoridictionary.co.nz)



    Prof Angela Drewnoah callan