autistic children on a rugby field looking at visual chart and rugby occupational therapist
15 Feb

Community Spotlight - Sense Rugby

This month we caught up with Sense Rugby and chatted to Occupational therapist Carlien Parahi and Australian Rugby Sevens Olympian Jesse Parahi about their business Sense Rugby - when therapy meets rugby. 

Q1. Firstly, tell us about Sense Rugby and the services it offers? 

Sense Rugby is a rugby based Occupational therapy program. It was designed to help neurodiverse children and children with developmental delays and disabilities participate in sport. To do this, we developed a program that uses the sensory and social benefits of rugby to help build our kids’ capacity to participate in team sport through developing gross motor, sensory, social, emotional and attention skills. Many of our Sense Rugby kids continue on to join local sporting teams with the help of their OTs & Allied Health Assistants.

Q2. Carlien & Jesse, tell us more about your backgrounds and how did your work lead you to creating your own therapy and disability support business? 


I have been a Paediatric Occupational Therapist for 10 years and worked in private practice and public health settings throughout that time. These days, I lead our team of OTs and Allied Health Assistants in our Sense Therapies Clinic in the Illawarra area. I am also a mum of two and a fierce advocate for the importance of Early Intervention and support being available to families. As an OT, my work involves getting to the bottom of why activities are hard for children or families and then building the skills to allow participation. When we are running Sense Rugby sessions, we are always working out the ‘why’ and then developing those skills to allow kids to participate in sport as well as other groups they find themselves in.


My background started in sport. I played rugby and every sport I could find from a very young age. I always loved and needed movement. It led to a career for me and I played rugby for theAustralian Sevens Rugby team for 10 years. During this time, I was lucky enough to play in two Commonwealth Games and captain the Australian side for the Gold Coast games. I also became an Australian Olympian in 2016. I always wanted to work with kids so Sense Rugby allowed me an opportunity to help kids and become an Allied Health Assistant following my rugby retirement in 2020. I recently got diagnosed with ADHD and I love using my own lived experience to help children find their thing and succeed regardless of any diagnosis.

Q3. Where does Sense Rugby run and how can families get involved?

Sense Rugby is in many locations across Australia and New Zealand. The best way to get involved is to head to our website to check out the locations near you. We’re also very active on Facebook and will often launch new locations on there.

Q4. What are some of the goals families and children have when they join a Sense Rugby program?

These can be so broad! Some families are really passionate about rugby and others have never heard of rugby before! We have goals of: 

  • Developing group and teamwork skills
  • Reducing isolation and making friends
  • Learning to focus in groups
  • Learning how to express emotions in a safe way
  • Developing sensory processing skills
  • Learning how to cope with winning and losing
  • Finding a safe group space where differences are celebrated and parents can take a breath too!

Q5. What are your aspirations for Sense Rugby? What’s next?

We want Sense Rugby to be available worldwide. We want to encourage therapists to think outside of the box and deliver therapy in a way that is really meaningful to families. We want to show and teach sport clubs how to make small changes that can mean that 1000s more kids and families can play sport.

Q6. What has been the most rewarding aspect of Sense Rugby? 

Hands down seeing the kids’ faces when we tell them they can tackle the tackle bag as hard as they want and then seeing them make that first tackle!

We also love hearing about kids making friends.

Q7. I noticed you are currently recruiting occupational therapists? Tell our readers about opportunities to work with Sense Rugby.

Yes, we certainly are! We are looking for a full/part time OT to work at Sense Therapies & Sense Rugby. Our OTs deliver both one on one OT and Sense Rugby group services. They also travel with us to launch new Sense Rugby areas and work on program development. Here is our application link:

Paediatric Occupational Therapist Job in Wollongong, Illawarra & South Coast - SEEK

For more information you can follow Sense Rugby on Facebook and Instagram.

To see what is involved at Sense Rugby you can watch this NDIS Provider Story: Stepping out with Sense Rugby.

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