Nicola in Sri Lanka in 1994

I can’t quite believe I’ve made it back here. The excitement I felt as I walked off the aeroplane was tangible, triggered by a few wonderful memories: the unforgettable hair dryer of hot air that blows into your face; the smell of heavy, tropical heat; the sound of the squawking Sri Lankan birds and the beaming smiles of the gorgeous people. I haven’t been back here since 1998, when I came for three months to help set up the first Speech Therapy training course at Kelaniya University, though my first and most precious visit, when I fell in love with this country, was a few years before that in 1994: I spent a year working in two children’s orphanages, firstly in the hill country near Kandy, and then another just outside Colombo. How lucky am I!

Considering my last visit here was more than 20 years ago, a lot here in Sri Lanka and of course in my little life has changed. I am a Speech and Language Therapist these days, and I run an organisation called The Owl Centre which specialises in Assessment and Therapy in the UK. And I’ve come back to Sri Lanka to try and ‘Pass it Forward’ – the exact definition of which is “respond to a person’s kindness to oneself by being kind to someone else” and I think that sums it up beautifully. I am going to try and make some links with local charities and organisations in the hope that we can do some partnership work together for the benefit of children with additional needs in some way, shape or form. I have a few bits and bobs lined up and, well, we’ll see. Let’s watch this space.

Here is a little bit I wrote about the Owl Centre for an article recently:

The Owl Centre, founded in 2011, is a team of approximately 600 therapists, doctors and teachers providing: Speech and Language Therapy, Occupational Therapy, Clinical Psychology, Educational Psychology, Psychotherapy & Tutoring across the UK to children and adults with a vast range of needs such as developmental delay, autism, ADHD, emotional / well-being issues, speech and language difficulties, sensory processing difficulties, emotional support, and more. We aim to provide high quality interventions for any person, should they need any form of additional support or assessment.

The Owl Centre’s head office is in Cheltenham, but our therapists are spread out across the whole of the UK. We accept referrals from individuals or their families, schools, GP practices, case managers, Adoption Support Fund holders and, in the last few years, we have been carrying out a number of NHS commissioned projects, predominantly around Autism & ADHD diagnosis and post diagnostic support. Our therapists tend to prefer to provide face to face therapy sessions in our clinics, schools or families’ homes but, in the last few years, for obvious reasons, we have carried out many of our sessions online with great success.

In 2020, a branch of the Owl Centre became a charity: ‘The Owl Centre Charity – providing high quality help and support to those who are unable to access it’. In short, we deliver bespoke training and intervention packages focusing on British Best Practice to groups of parents and professionals predominantly in developing countries and also in the UK. For example, in Vietnam, in partnership with Saigon Children’s Charity, our clinicians run a three-week training programme for 30 Special School Teachers once a year, for three years. In the UK, our charity has teamed up with the Little Troopers Charity in response to the ‘Living in our Shoes’ paper released by the MoD in June 2020, prompting funds to be allocated for delivering training, parent support groups and therapy, both group-based and individual for children whose parents have been deployed or are about to be deployed.

The Owl Centre charity is run with love by Nicola Lathey, owner of The Owl Centre, author, and Speech and Language Therapist. Her passion to support parents and professionals with learning how to help children with additional needs stems from helping her own brother (who has Down’s Syndrome) when he was a child, 10 years younger then her, by helping to implement all of the recommendations that his various therapists brought to their family home in Fishguard, West Wales.