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An Autism-Specific Multi-Disciplinary Practice that Continues to Grow

How a Practice Owned by a Speech Pathologist and an Engineer is Supporting the Autism Community in Auckland

Nicholas Dobbie Acorn Autism

Nicholas Dobbie,
Acorn Autism

Acorn Autism is owned by Kimberley, a speech and language pathologist, and her husband Nicholas, an engineer by training. In just three short years, the growth of their practice has been impressive as they’ve expanded to two clinic locations and 20 therapists, including speech therapists, occupational therapists, therapy technicians, dieticians and psychologists.

Nicholas and Kimberley have found that they work well together because of their different roles. With his engineering background, Nicholas has implemented systems for managing and streamlining the practice’s admin, while Kimberley focuses on the therapy side. As Nicholas notes; “Being a practitioner and business owner at the same time would be difficult. Working together we have a partnership that ensures neither side of the business is neglected, and we can support each other.”

Acorn Autism was born out of a desire to establish an autism-specific, multi-disciplinary centre where children could come with their parents to have a tailored therapy programme mapped out that included multiple therapists across different disciplines. Kimberley has first-hand experience of this, having worked in a similar practice in Canada for many years before relocating back to New Zealand.

She wanted to join a similar style of practice in New Zealand but was unable to find anything in the country. And where others might have been discouraged, she and Nicholas saw it as an opportunity. They felt strongly that this was something that the autism community in New Zealand needed access to, and that’s where their journey started to gather momentum. They quickly found premises, hired their first few team members and have gone on to establish a world-class facility where children come and can have a full program mapped out and provided for them.

Acorn Autism was committed to growing a large clinic from the onset and is already bearing the fruits of this big vision. They started small with just four team members to cover each discipline and have grown organically, employing a bigger team as the client base grew. They now have two clinics in Auckland.

But how do they find the process of managing a large practice? According to Nicholas, “our move to Power Diary two years ago was one of the biggest and best changes we made. In the very beginning, we were using Google Calendar to manage our diaries, but have since switched to Power Diary exclusively.” Nicholas is quick to point out that they’re only scratching the surface in terms of Power Diary’s capabilities, “we are migrating more of the business over to Power Diary as we learn about what the software can do such as online forms for client onboarding”.

They didn’t make the move to Power Diary lightly, taking over six months to look at other options on the market and quizzing reception staff when going to their own personal appointments at other health clinics. But, as Nicholas puts it,

“In terms of clinic management, Power Diary has the cleanest all-round approach, and it does the fundamentals really well.”

He also added that “as the practice has grown and we’ve taken on more staff, Power Diary has made a big difference, it’s so much easier having all the client information available, and we spend less time doing admin and scheduling. It also significantly reduces the admin burden on the individual practitioners so they can spend more time seeing clients. The main features we use are the reporting and group calendars to view a particular set of practitioners. We also really appreciate that the support team is always available to help answer questions and resolve issues.”

“With autism, engagement of family is paramount. We can do the therapy really well, but where you see the biggest change is when parents are involved in the process. The more we can do to empower parents, the easier it is to integrate changes in their approach and improve the outcomes for the child.”

Power Diary has the tools to help us be responsive to parent requests and efficiently communicate with the families that access our services.

With the admin side of the business running smoothly, the biggest remaining challenge for the practice is finding the right people to join their team. They are always advertising for roles and currently have client waitlists. But they don’t rush the process. Nicholas and Kimberley spend a lot of time interviewing candidates. “When hiring, we’ve learned not to ignore any red flags and always address issues head-on. We ask the difficult questions in the interview process and give the candidate an opportunity to respond, which takes a lot of guesswork out. We’ve got to where we are because of our reputation, and we’re really proud of our team, but it’s hard to find the right people who are passionate about the work we do.”

The hiring process is just the first step. Nicholas and Kimberley’s proactive management style led them to put some focus on getting solid HR processes in place within the practice. They refined the interviewing process and took steps to formalise several areas of people management. To inform their decision-making, they use Power Diary to generate regular reports and are moving towards a data-centric approach to managing their team.

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Going forward, the future looks bright for Acorn Autism. They started out with a single clinic with a view to get systems in place so they could expand to other locations. In lockdown, they opened a second clinic which is now going well. In the future, they hope to be able to help more children with autism, and their families through the work that they do.

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