Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) refers to the various strategies, systems, tools and methods that help people with speech challenges communicate effectively in place of verbal speech. October is international AAC awareness month and senior communications and outreach executive Melissa Tan, finds out more about AAC from speech therapist Deborah Yong.
Melissa Tan (MT): Hi Deborah! Tell me more about yourself, and how long have you been working in SPD?
Deborah Yong (DY): I am a speech therapist specialising in assistive technology, and I have been working in SPD since 2015.
MT: Why did you choose to be a speech therapist?
DY: I wanted a profession that is meaningful and one that could be an avenue for me to serve others. As someone who has an interest in clinical work and language and speech-language therapy, being a speech therapist seemed to be the best fit. I also have friends who are speech therapists and they shared with me insights regarding the job.
I have been in the field of Assistive Technology (AT) for close to three years and wanted to further expand my knowledge and skills in AT to provide a more holistic intervention for those with disabilities. So, I pursued the Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology Society of North America (RESNA) Assistive Technology Professional course and successfully attained my certification in 2018. There are currently less than 10 RESNA-certified assistive technology professionals (ATP) in Singapore and I am proud to be one of them.
MT: Why did you choose to work at SPD?
DY: I wanted exposure to different clients in various settings and to expand my skills as a speech therapist, which is in line with the SPD Therapy Hub model. Working in the social service sector would also allow me to work closely with persons with disabilities and their families to achieve their speech and language goals.
MT: Can you describe what you do as a speech therapist?
DY: I provide speech, language and communication assessments and intervention for my clients. In addition, my job also involves prescribing AAC systems and training clients, professionals and caregivers in using AAC.
MT: What does a day in your job look like?
DY: Under the SPD Therapy Hub arrangement, I am currently deployed to a Child Development Unit that supports students in a special education school and mainstream school, as well as the Specialised Assistive Technology Centre (Specialised ATC) at SPD. When I am in the school setting, I usually start off the day by seeing my clients in the morning for speech therapy sessions, followed by writing clinical notes and attending meetings. When I am based at the Specialised ATC, my day typically involves providing speech therapy clinical supervision, carrying out AAC assessments or intervention and being involved in various AAC/AT projects or trainings.
MT: What are some of the challenges working with clients with complex communication needs and how do you overcome them?
DY: A client with complex communication needs (CCN) requires the support of many people to achieve communication success. One of the challenges we face is getting everyone who is supporting the client (for e.g., caregivers, school staff and other professionals) to be on the same page.
The Specialised ATC offers on-site AAC sessions in schools and we liaise with other professionals via email or phone calls. Caregivers are heavily involved in intervention sessions, which encourages them to continue the intervention strategies at home. In addition, we started a caregiver training programme in AAC called AAC for Caregivers in 2017, where we empower more caregivers to support their children with CCN at home and in the community. More information regarding AAC for Caregivers can be found at https://spd.org.sg/aacforcaregivers/
MT: Any memorable experiences to share?
DY: I had a client who was minimally verbal and had been prescribed an AAC app on his iPad. This empowered him to communicate his needs and wants. In one of my AAC intervention sessions with his family, he communicated what was on his mind using his AAC system. This led to his younger sister blurting out: “This boy ah, pretends to be stupid but actually so smart!” That was indeed a very memorable experience indeed.
I also cherish the e-mails sent to me by my older clients who are more literate. The e-mails may range from questions regarding their AAC systems or just updates regarding their communication status. One of my clients even signs off his e-mail with a reminder for his e-mail recipients to ‘be optimistic in thinking’. The internet has indeed opened up the world for many clients who would otherwise have limited communication partners.
MT: What motivates and spurs you?
DY: Seeing my clients empowered – to have a voice to express their needs, wants and opinions!
MT: Any words of encouragement to aspiring speech therapists?
DY: Let me share with you my favourite quote by Daniel Webster that relates to what I do as a speech therapist.
“If all my possessions were taken from me with one exception, I would choose to keep the power of communication, for by it I would soon regain all the rest”. Being a speech therapist is a rewarding and meaningful career. You can make a huge difference in other people’s lives!