Kate's story

Working with children with a vision impairment runs in the family for Kate. But it was whilst working in schools and seeing Habilitation Specialists helping children develop their independence, that Kate knew that was the job for her. Ten years on and she says it’s the best career decision she’s ever made.

My motto is can-do, not can’t do or can-do with help. If there’s something you want to do we’ll find a way to support you to do that.  The life of a Habilitation Specialist is really varied, and I love it.

Kate’s mum was a teacher for children with a vision impairment, and after leaving university Kate spotted a temporary job working in schools. As she worked with more young people, and saw the different roles, Kate quickly decided that she wanted to work with children out in the community, and retrained as a Habilitation Specialist. “It’s great if you can achieve academically, but if you can’t get on a bus to go to school, or cook for yourself, then living independently is really difficult. And that’s what I love, helping children to live as independent a life as possible.” 

Kate is a Senior Habilitation Specialist at Guide Dogs, meaning she works with children to help them develop their independence skills. That can be from the early stages of learning to walk and getting around, to using a white cane in order to catch their school bus. Habilitation Specialists will also help children and young people learn independent living skills like getting dressed, shopping, cooking and looking after a home.

I love that no two days are the same – we work with children aged from 0-25 years old, so I can be in homes, nurseries, schools, colleges and out in the community as well.

Guide Dogs is the largest employer of Habilitation Specialists in the UK, and Kate says early intervention is key. “I think the service Guide Dogs provides is really unique because we’re there for parents right from diagnosis, helping children develop these skills early on and then all the way through to school and beyond if that’s what they want.”

“Our goal is to help children be as independent as possible. My aim really is to do myself out of a job - it should get to the point where a child doesn’t need my help anymore.” 

One of Kate’s youngest ever students is Margot, who was nine weeks old when they first met. “When I first started working with her, Margot was so small that I spent a lot of my time supporting her parents, Laura and John, and building trust with Margot. But as she’s gotten older, we’ve done a lot of work on getting to know her body and body awareness skills. Knowing your feet and your hands is really important because it helps Margot build those skills that she’s going to need in the future to walk, crawl and stand.” 

Margot has just turned one and can grasp toys, feed herself, reach out and sit up. But with her being so young, a lot of the sessions with Kate are based around play. “We do a lot of movement songs like ‘row row row your boat’, I have my big bag of musical toys and we’ll often stop for a snack too, giving her a chance to practise feeding herself.”

Margot is fantastic – she’s a really happy bubbly girl and anything we give her she just takes in her stride.

But the job does also mean you have to be adaptable. “We take a person-centred approach when working with children, so we find out what that young person wants to be able to do, and we help them to do it. A young man once asked me to help him shave – which definitely involved me having to do some research and ask my male colleagues for advice. But we got there!” 

Kate says one of the best parts of her job is that she gets to watch her students grow and flourish into independent young people and adults. “I have one student I've worked with since they were ten. They have just qualified with their guide dog and are out in the world living their lives, which is just brilliant. Watching children go off and just be themselves is definitely the best part of my job.”