Associate Professor Valerie Lim (left), Programme Director, Speech and Language Therapy, Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT)
It all started when my older sister, a social worker, introduced me to speech therapy and encouraged me to pursue it as my career. Fresh out of junior college, I decided to find out more, volunteering at the Movement for the Intellectually Disabled of Singapore and assisting children with intellectual disabilities such as Down syndrome and Autism Spectrum Disorder. In the course of my work, I noticed the frustration and defeat when some of the children failed to successfully relay their thoughts and feelings.
That was when I realised how much we took speech and communication for granted. This sparked my interest in the field and I was fortunate enough to be awarded a scholarship to pursue speech pathology at La Trobe University in Australia.
People often think that a speech therapist only handles speech-related issues such as articulation, pronunciation and elocution. However, you must be able to hear, see, understand and formulate your words before you speak. We also work with individuals with eating or swallowing issues as the muscles used for these are the same ones we use for speech. If we have to include everything we do in our professional title, it would be too long!
As much as we are supposed to be the ones to make a difference in the lives of our patients, they make a difference in our lives too. I had a patient in her early thirties who suffered a stroke right after she delivered her baby. After an assessment, I found that she suffered from right-sided upper limb weakness, limited speech and slurring as well as difficulty processing higher-level language.
Her determination and strength in dealing with her condition were incredible. On top of undergoing therapy, she had to care for a newborn. It was not until I became a mother myself that I realised the power of a mother's love. To this day, I remember her story when times get tough; that is when everything gets put into perspective.
I believe that education is the only way to ensure the continuation of our profession. Since starting my career, I have not stopped teaching and supervising students and speech therapists, be it for clinical education, research or academic purposes.
Today, I am the Programme Director at SIT's Speech and Language Therapy programme… it was newly launched this year. With this, I hope to train students to be future-ready and clinically-relevant professionals who will contribute to the health, social and community sectors in Singapore.
Before this programme, students had to study overseas to receive undergraduate speech therapy training. The new programme now allows them to receive localised training and hence, provide better care for our population in the local context.
If you enjoy language studies, favour a blend of the arts and sciences and aspire to help individuals from womb to tomb, this applied learning course is for you.