In Conversation with Speech Therapist Valerene Tan

Speech therapists are a rare breed in Singapore. Even with an increased demand for speech therapy services across different settings in Singapore, it is heartening to know that working in [...]

Speech therapists are a rare breed in Singapore. Even with an increased demand for speech therapy services across different settings in Singapore, it is heartening to know that working in the social service sector is still the top choice for some of them. Dawn Wee, SPD’s Programme Head for Early Intervention Programme for Infants and Children (EIPIC) and Continuing Therapy Programme (CTP), had a chat with Valerene Tan (third from left), speech therapist with the Building Bridges EIPIC Centre, and got to hear her motivations for joining and staying in the sector.

Q1: Why did you choose the social service sector?
Families are the basic unit of our society. Working in the social service sector allows me to work directly with families and individuals, each with their own unique struggles and stories. Together with a team of other social service professionals such as social workers, EIPIC teachers, psychologists and other allied health professionals like physiotherapists and occupational therapists, we help families cope with their challenges and work closely with them to overcome these challenges.

More people should consider joining the sector because the satisfaction of empowering families and seeing them become successful strengthens the society as a whole. The more professionals we have in the sector, the stronger our society will be.

Q2: How long have you been in the social service sector?
I’ve been in the social service sector for almost three years – half the time as an EIPIC teacher and the other half as a speech therapist.

Q3: Who do you work with?
I work with children from 0 to 7 years old. They come to us with a range of developmental delays or disorders, e.g., global developmental delay, Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Cerebral Palsy, Down Syndrome, and other related genetic conditions.

Q4: What is your role as a Speech Therapist?
I work with children and their families to improve the children’s communication skills, language skills, speech clarity and feeding difficulties, which will result in improvement in interaction between the children and their families and an improved quality of life for the child.

Q5: What is a typical day for you like?
I struggle with answering this question because there isn’t a typical day in the life of a speech therapist. I get to work with children and caregivers from different family backgrounds and who have different needs. This is the nature of my job that I enjoy most.

However, I do start off most mornings by looking through my notes and preparing for sessions for the day. As therapy sessions are often done in a group, one huge part of our job involves working on the children’s skills and managing their behaviours. We also provide caregiver or teacher training to ensure that intervention carries on in the classroom or at home. Finally, documentation and evaluating our sessions ensure that we are always providing up to date and excellent services to our clients.

Q6: What are some challenges that you faced as a speech therapist?
The challenges that I face are often at the home front since I work closely with families. Ensuring the continuity of therapy at home does not come overnight. Some families are not able to contribute fully to the intervention process as parents need to juggle caring for their child and bringing home the bacon. As therapists, we empathise with their situation, work closely with other allied health professionals and suggest activities which are functional so that parents too can work together with their child and experience the joy of progressing together as a family. Having a relentless belief in parents and their children is key in ensuring success in the intervention process.

Q7: What is the best part of working in the community?
The best part about working in a community setting is being able to allocate more time to each of our clients and their families to understand their issues in greater depth and to work with other professionals in the community to help address their needs.

Q8: What has been an unforgettable experience on the job so far?
There have been a few unforgettable moments on the job so far, but one of my favourite is working with a child with ASD who was initially non-verbal. At the start of this year, I felt that working with this child was really challenging. His communication was limited to tapping on his chest to indicate “I want” and he only did so for biscuits. No one understood him except for his teacher, his caregivers and I.

One day, while I was reading a book out loud to him and his classmates, I asked “What is a hat used for?” He replied by taking the book out of my hand and placing it on his head and I exclaimed “Yes! A hat is for wearing (on the head).” I asked again, “What is a chair used for?” and this time he sat on the picture of a chair. I realised that he understood so much more than he could express. Since then, his communication skills have improved substantially and now, he can be quite talkative at times. It gives me great satisfaction to know that I was able to help him as his speech therapist.

Q9: A speech therapist wears many hats! What do you do to unwind when you are not at SPD?
You can find me reading, doing calligraphy and listening to music when I have some spare time.