Our Story
Mind Over Matter
Jia Yen
Psychologist, Cerebral Palsy Alliance Singapore (CPAS)
Published on 03/04/19
Jia Yen works with children aged 6–17 at CPAS, an organisation that serves children and adults with cerebral palsy and multiple disabilities. The children Jia Yen works with attend programmes and classes at CPAS before transitioning to a primary school, or other organisation that meets their needs. CPAS’ programmes and services cater to the developmental needs of persons in order to maximise their functional independence at every stage of life. This is her story.

Why did you join social service?
My aunt used to be a Special Education Teacher, and she would share stories of her days as an educator for differently-abled children. I was very young then, but was always fascinated by how she was able to help children to their fullest potential. This may have encouraged me to pursue Psychology in the future, where I could gain an understanding of, and support the individuals.
Can you tell us more about your role?
Sure! My role is divided into two parts – Assessments with Special Education and an Early Intervention Programme for infants and children.
Children with cerebral palsy and other developmental needs may struggle from various conditions ranging from weak motor skills to having difficulties articulating themselves.
When conducting psychological assessments, I investigate my students’ functional and cognitive abilities to determine if they’re ready for transition from CPAS to a primary school. This can range from being able to distinguish patterns, to being able to recognise pictures and what they represent.
During interventions, I work with students on the challenges they face. This may be as seemingly simple as learning to put their glasses on, or slightly more complex, such as gradually improving their sleep issues and attention difficulties.
I see my role akin to an investigator. I search for clues that help me understand my students and their challenges, and I work with other specialists to solve them. But I believe that the fundamental skill I impart to students is the ability to build up their resilience.
Why is resilience building important to instil in students?
It’s crucial for them to learn how to be resilient because it’s a life skill that helps students integrate into society. Sometimes it’s about making a small choice, like deciding whether they should try an activity again when they completed it wrongly, or take a break. Other times, it’s much bigger, such as deciding whether they would like to live by themselves, or together with their parents, as well as thinking about and managing the possible challenges that come along with each alternative.
How do you go about empowering them to develop a sense of resilience?
It depends on the type of help the client requires.
For example, I’ve helped Judy* foster better social and transition skills. For instance, she was able to successfully attend an orientation programme at a primary school. She could mingle with other students and comply with her new primary school teacher. It sounds mundane, but Judy has been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and tends to find unfamiliar situations unnerving and challenging. This made it difficult to socialise with others.
To prepare her for possible unfamiliar social and transition situations, I asked her to express her feelings and experiences in a daily journal through drawing. I knew that she loved drawing, and this made the activity fun for her. Whenever we had our sessions together, we would then talk about these drawings, and she would attempt to describe to me what she drew, and how they made her feel. Her mother also helped her review her journal entries in between our sessions.
If she expressed discomfort about a drawing, I would then help her identify this feeling, and suggest potential alternatives about how she may overcome them. This exercise helped her make sense of her emotions. More importantly, it also enabled her to explore ways about how to overcome them.
Judy’s parents were overjoyed and relieved after her scheduled orientation. They relayed how proud they were of their daughter for being able to attend it further intervention. Hearing this made me feel heartened to have played a role in helping my student achieve progress.
That’s quite inspiring. What keeps you going every day?
It’s stories like Judy’s that encourage me to do what I do. I feel satisfied and motivated in seeing my students achieve their own goals. 
I’m also very fortunate to work with a team of dedicated specialists including other psychologists, teachers, occupational therapists, physiotherapists, social workers and speech therapists. Knowing that I’m working with a group of like-minded people who provide different insights allows me to find the best solution for our students. Likewise, parents also play a big part in collaborating with me to help our students practice their goals at home and in other settings.  
Being part of this supportive environment helps me grow professionally, and that further empowers me to help my students.
* The student’s name has been changed to protect her privacy

A Psychologist is one of the many roles in social service. To find out more, read about a career in psychology.
Jia Yen using tools to help her students express their emotions.