On any given day, Ms Joanna Toh, a senior teacher at Fei Yue Early Intervention Centre, could be encouraging a young child with Down Syndrome to feed himself, getting a child with behavioural issues to settle down to learn, or teaching language skills to a six-year-old with developmental delay or dyslexia.
It is very challenging, but teaching those with special needs brings with it a very unique set of rewards, says Ms Toh.
The Early Intervention Programme for Infants and Children (EIPIC) provides educational support services for children aged six and below who have physical, sensory or intellectual disabilities or developmental delays.
As of January this year, there are 190 teachers helping over 1,300 children enrolled in 13 EIPIC centres.
The centres, which include the Fei Yue Early Intervention Centre, are run by nine voluntary welfare organisations.
The growing awareness of the importance of early intervention has led to an increase in the need for such services.
There are plans to open seven more centres in the next four years, and an estimated 50 EIPIC teachers will be needed each year for the next four years.
The National Council of Social Service has been actively promoting the profession and collaborating with institutions of higher learning and industry partners to attract new graduates and mid-career professionals.
Ms Toh says: “I have always enjoyed spending time with children.
“In secondary school, I got to know my friend’s brother who is autistic.
“People with autism have communication difficulties and poor social skills and some may not like physical touch. So I was particularly moved when he made eye contact with me, held my hand and started having a conversation and asking questions.
“I also tutored a teenage girl with developmental delay who attended a special school. These experiences sparked my interest in this field.”
Lessons and activities
When Ms Toh found out about an opening at the Fei Yue Early Intervention Centre, she jumped at the chance to work with children with special needs.
Her typical working day involves planning school events such as outings, preparing for lessons and teaching.
As a senior teacher, she also supervises other teachers by observing their classes and assists in managing the behaviour of the children.
Once a week, she screens and enrols new students for placement at the centre.
She also conducts courses periodically at her centre for other EIPIC teachers and caregivers on topics such as Structured Teaching.
In addition, she was a facilitator for the course Signposts for Building Better Behaviour at KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital.
Ms Toh recounts one incident that left a deep impression on her: “A child with autism cried repeatedly when he was first enrolled at our centre. In fact, he cried so badly that he would vomit.
“Children with autism typically take longer to get used to a new environment, as impairment in social interaction and communication is one of the characteristics of the disorder.
“After about three months, there was a subtle but significant turning point. He started to take an interest in class activities.
“Whenever I started on some tasks with him, I would pass him a picture of myself to let him know that he would be working with me.
“What I remember most vividly was the day he looked at the picture and said: ‘Teacher Jo’.
“Thereafter, he would occasionally look at me and greet me by this moniker.”
It is little victories like these that keep Ms Toh going.
“Every child is different. The work I do with each child gives me a sense of achievement which inspires me to do more for the children and their families,” she says.
Doing something worthwhile
If you enjoy interacting with children and have a passion for looking after young children with special needs, consider becoming an EIPIC teacher.
Once you are placed with an EIPIC centre, you will have access to a comprehensive training and development programme that consists of in-house training, guidance and supervision, external courses at the Social Service Training Institute and an advanced diploma.
If you would like to know more about early intervention, log on to www.ncss.org.sg/eipic
To apply to be an EIPIC teacher, e-mail your resumé to firstname.lastname@example.org
A diploma qualification is required. The closing date for applications is April 30.