Many of us would have heard of the famous proverb “it takes a village to raise a child”. This has never been more true when it comes to the work of our senior educational therapist, Felicia Ng. In her work, she supports pre-schoolers with learning difficulties, and often, family and community involvement are the key pieces that form a comprehensive ecosystem of care for the child.
In this fourth installment of the Professionals’ Day Special, senior Communications and Outreach executive Chong Cai Yun speaks with Felicia on the importance of partnering different stakeholders in helping children develop to their fullest potential.
1. Hi Felicia! Tell us more about yourself.
Hi everyone! I am Felicia, a senior educational therapist in the Development Support / Learning Support (DS/LS) programme. I have been working with children with special needs for thirteen years. My interest in the field began when I was undergoing an attachment stint in a pre-school as part of my diploma studies. While I was there, I observed that there were children with learning difficulties who needed support in class. Wanting to help these children, I spoke to my lecturer and learned about the different strategies to facilitate their learning in the classroom. My lecturer’s enthusiasm deeply inspired me to make a difference in the lives of these children. This prompted me to pursue the advanced diploma in early childhood intervention (special needs) and begin my career as an early intervention teacher. While working as a teacher, I took up a degree course in early childhood. Subsequently, I moved on to become a learning support educator, and now an educational therapist in the DS/LS programme.
2. What is the difference between the work of an educational therapist versus an early intervention teacher and learning support educator?
Though there are other organisations who have similar job roles, the work that they do may not be exactly the same as us. As such, the below explanation is in the context of SPD.
The main differences lie in the profile of children we support and the settings where intervention take place. An early intervention teacher supports children with special needs aged six and below in the Early Intervention Programme for Infants and Children (EIPIC). Intervention usually takes place in a small group setting at the EIPIC centres.
As for educational therapists and learning support educators, they serve pre-schoolers in the DS/LS programme in the pre-school setting. An educational therapist supports pre-schoolers with literacy difficulties who has underlying issues such as behavioural and cognitive difficulties, whereas a learning support educator provides classroom support for children with mild learning difficulties.
3. As an educational therapist, how does your work help children with learning difficulties?
In the DS/LS programme that I am currently supporting, I conduct one-to-one intervention sessions where I customise strategies and activities to meet the individualised needs of each child. For example, we may incorporate actions, hands-on activities and pictorial association to help children with learning difficulties remember letter names and sounds. Through these sessions, we hope to enable the children to become independent and motivated learners with the skills acquired.
Besides providing direct intervention to children, I also work closely with the child’s pre-school teachers and parents to provide a more holistic care. After each intervention session with the child, I will communicate with the teachers about what was done at the session, gather feedback from them about the child’s progress, and check with them if the strategies shared are working well in the classroom. I will also update parents about their child’s progress and explain to them about the home activities for the week.
4. Besides your role as an educational therapist, I understand that you also conduct training for pre-school teachers.
Yes, that’s right! I am one of the trainers for the Identification and Classroom Management of Pre-schoolers with Learning Difficulties (ICMPLD) course by SPD. We conduct this course with the aim of empowering pre-school teachers with the strategies to effectively manage children with learning difficulties in the classroom. My direct work in the DS/LS programme has helped me to relate better to the concerns and challenges that pre-school teachers face.
Being a trainer has also allowed me to reach out to more pre-school educators. Through conversations with them, I have gained a more comprehensive outlook on the issues they experienced. This challenged me to think of functional strategies that teachers are more likely to adopt and continuously use when teaching children with learning difficulties.
5. What are the key attributes of a good educational therapist?
- It is important that one works well and enjoys working in a team. To address the child’s needs, I often have to collaborate with different therapists in our team to derive the best strategy for the child.
- We also need to have good communication skills and empathy as these help parents, teachers and children we serve to feel heard and understood. Collaboration becomes more effective when there is mutual trust and respect.
- One should also remain positive, adaptable and resilient when handling unexpected situations.
6. To you, what is one misconception people have about your job?
A common misconception is that an educational therapist will have a sure-win solution to treat children with learning needs. The fact is that there needs to be opportunities provided across settings for the child to practise and generalise the skills learnt. The adults in the child’s life will need to purposefully create such meaningful moments for learning to take place. This process will take patience, effort, and time.
7. What is the biggest challenge you have faced as an educational therapist?
It can be challenging when it comes to planning for home activities as every family is unique. Parents may have limited time to work with their child at home. Therefore, the activities must be interesting, scaffolds the child’s learning and at the same time, manageable and sustainable for parents to carry out and follow through.
Communicating with the parents helps me to understand their family background, lifestyle and how much time they can spend on an activity. Such information enable me to plan home activities that will best suit the child and his/her family.
8. With your extensive experience in the early intervention field, is there any particularly memorable moment for you?
I remembered there was a child with learning difficulties that I used to serve. She was the older child among two children. Her mother was feeling stressed as she was unable to cater to the learning needs of both her children. When she tried to work on activities with the older child, the younger one would come over to pull her away. Upon knowing the challenges faced by the mother, I prepared home activities with materials that the mother could use to engage both children at the same time. With the materials, the mother was able to carry out the home activities every evening as she saw that it was valuable to them, especially for her older child. After four months of intervention with consistent follow-up done at home, the older child made good progress. The mother was thankful that the materials not only benefitted both her children, but the time spent working on the materials have also helped to forge a closer bond between her and her children.
9. Thank you for sharing your journey with us, Felicia. Before we end, could you share with us some of your hopes and aspirations moving forward?
I hope that all pre-schools will come to value the importance of the DS/LS programme and the powerful impact that the programme may have on the children with learning difficulties, their families and teachers. I also hope for a deeper collaboration between the stakeholders so that the children are well-supported across the different areas in their lives.