Olive Tree Development Center provides holistic care and service for special needs children as well as their families.
By Lee Weifang
Little X, a 3-year-old boy looked like any other little boy, only he hardly spoke. He would gesticulate to communicate instead of using words. Concerned, his mother started looking for help. After assessment, she eventually enrolled him into a center for children with special needs. Amazingly, Little X showed a marked improvement in his verbal speech after just several sessions.
Little X and his family experienced their breakthrough at Olive Tree Development Center, an extension of Olive Tree Baby & Kids Clinic which boasts over 13 years of medical practice experience in Singapore.
OTDC sees mostly children from 1 through 8 years, but there is no age limit, as the intervention strategies applied are applicable to both children and adults. Early intervention for children is most critical when they are aged 2 to 7 years old.
The early intervention center boasts a multi-disciplinary team of pediatricians, education psychologists, occupational therapists, speech and language therapists, music therapists as well as special education teachers.
Director Chiu Loo Kwong explains, “The decision to start OTDC in Singapore was in response to a severe lack of resources and facilities to meet the growing demand. There is an urgent need to help many families who have children with special needs.”
A waiting time of three to six months at local hospitals for an appointment to see a developmental pediatrician, psychologist or therapist is not uncommon, mainly due to the lack of allied healthcare professionals in Singapore.
Singapore’s Ministry of Health reported 2,500 new cases of ASD or development delay in 2010. Actual numbers of unreported or undiagnosed cases, or parents in denial of their child’s condition may push the figure three to five times higher.
A SAFE HAVEN
The atmosphere at OTDC is warm and relaxing, and one can imagine it puts children and parents at ease. The various activity rooms are filled with carefully chosen equipment and tools which aid learning and development in children.
OTDC recognizes that every child is different and has varying needs and learning styles. Its team of professionals meet different needs and work together to aid children.
Psychologists provide comprehensive assessments to diagnose and make educational recommendations. Occupational therapists help infants and young children who have physical, developmental, behavioral and social issues to handle their learning challenges through a range of meaningful and purposeful activities. Speech and language therapists help children develop literacy and appropriate speech, as well as language skills for communication.
The team combines the use of standardized assessment tools with clinical observations to determine the strengths and weaknesses of every child. Using these results, an individually customized intervention plan with concrete goals is then developed.
ENGAGING THROUGH PLAY AND MUSIC
OTDC’s Discovery Learner’s Program helps special needs children using multi-sensorial activities. The program incorporates music, speech and drama, storytelling, social activities and creative play in a structured and small group setting. It focuses on the ability of the child to engage, self-regulate and communicate within a social setting.
OTDC is one of the few centers which provides music therapy, which is a very promising and evidence-based treatment that uses music as a means to achieve non-musical goals in the physical, social, emotional and cognitive arena. The adaptive music program introduces the joys of music making while teaching the children how to play the piano and percussion instruments. Music therapists are also certified music teachers who have experience in teaching children with special needs. As a testament to the effectiveness of music therapy, OTDC once helped a 5-year-old boy, Z, who struggled with severe speech delay. After several weeks, to the amazement of his mother, Z began humming his music therapy tones and tunes at home.
When paired with words, music can be used to learn language, academic and social skills. It makes repetition and memorization enjoyable. Music can also stimulate physical responses, and control attention and emotion. Music therapy is also used to calm children, help improve motor skills, and academic skills such as counting, object grouping and letter identification.
In the healing and learning journey of their special needs child, the parents are often hurting in their journey as well. At OTDC, parent support groups are in place to help encourage and strengthen the parents. A bi-weekly mothers’ support group meets every Tuesday, and acts as a rallying point for mothers to share and pray together. Hearing testimonies of progress and healing help to put courage and faith in the hearts of these parents.
A FUTURE OF HOPE
OTDC has big, bold plans for the next two years. Apart from expanding its current reach, it plans to establish more centers in the heartlands of Singapore, and possibly expand overseas to China and the rest of Asia with adapted early intervention programs for remote areas.
Chiu says, “The needs are truly great. We aspire to reach out to families, and see their lives changed by God’s grace and power. One of my continuing motivations can be found in Revelations 7:17, where it says that God will wipe away every tear from the eyes of His children. Here at OTDC, we desire to share the love of God with these children and– their families. He will wipe away their tears and ease the pain on their journey.”
Olive Tree Development Center
179A Thomson Road
Goldhill Shopping Centre