We speak with the founder of Leapfrogs Therapy Centre to find out how it’s helped thousands of children across Singapore, and how to help parents with early intervention and detection
Have you got questions about early intervention, or a child with special needs that could use a boost in their learning, speech or social skills? We recently spoke with Michelle Tham, speech therapist and founder of Leapfrogs Therapy Centre (as well as a former That Mama!) about her pioneering children’s therapy centre and the amazing work they do with kids and teenagers across Singapore.
First of all, what IS Leapfrogs?
Leapfrogs is a child therapy centre that helps children with social and academic challenges to Learn, Engage, Adapt, and Progress with their friends, family, school, and society. We believe that all children have a right to pursue their dreams and our mission is to enable them by providing the understanding, therapy and love they need to succeed.
What ages does Leapfrogs cater to? What is the range of abilities that you work with?
Leapfrogs works with children generally from 18 months onwards, and the bulk of the kids that we see are in pre-school and the primary grades. The littlest one we’ve worked with to date has been 13 months, and our older “kids” who been with us from the very beginning are now 21 years of age and young adults!
I guess we didn’t expect to serve such a wide range of students from the outset, but the more techniques we learn, the more value we feel we must bring to the children, teens, and young adults that we work with.
We see a range of abilities, from children who are struggling to cope and meet the needs of their mainstream classrooms, to those with more severe needs such as children with diagnoses of Autism, Dyslexia, Attention Deficits, and other learning disabilities. As our forte and focus is to create a child that THINKS and enjoys when he LEARNS, we have often ended up working with kids suitable for both local and international schools.
What prompted you to start Leapfrogs?
I founded Leapfrogs with my mother May Tham in 2005 but its roots go back to my interest in speech therapy and child development. After my studies in speech pathology and hospital work I started The Children’s Speech Therapist in 2002 and began building a practice treating children. As the practice grew I could see that treating speech issues was only part of what is needed to develop a child’s ability to communicate and function, especially for children with learning disabilities.
Treating special children required additional teaching methodologies that incorporate understanding educational and occupational therapies. Fortunately my mom May Tham – a Montessori childcare school principal since 1998 – was able to join me and we formed the partnership that is Leapfrogs. This often creates unexpected responses such as “You work with your mother?” to which my mom often laughingly reply “My boss is ever so demanding!”
What specialty areas do you focus on? How many specialists do you have on staff?
Over the past 11 years Leapfrogs has grown to a staff of 10 trained professionals who are grouped into three therapy specialties: speech, occupational and educational therapy teams and departments. We are proud to mention that many of our team has been with us since the very beginning.
What are some examples of programmes that you run for kids?
We have programmes that prepare a child to be ready for primary school, therapies that encourage a child to really understand and think while he is completing a task, handwriting and reading, and lessons to build attention and focus.
But our favourite are social and learning group classes that work on a variety of different skills, from academically-related skills like problem solving, critical thinking, and language, to navigating the nuances of how to build friendships and relationships from age 3 to teens, which is when older children learn about the complexities of having friends both in reality and virtually (e.g. on Facebook or Snapchat).
While we’ve seen significant progress in children when we work with them in a 1:1 setting, we enjoy having them in group learning, where we’ve noted that their progress begins to grow rapidly!
How does Leapfrogs work with other educational organisations to help children with special needs and their parents?
Leapfrogs is recognised by the Singapore government as one of the approved and accredited institutions for early intervention where families can access grants for the Early Intervention Programme. Leapfrogs was selected as one of four the early pioneers in their pilot scheme to recognise private therapy providers. These schemes were previously limited to government or public special schools only.
We work with esteemed partners such as KKH, NUH, SGH, Rainbow Special Schools, paediatricians, psychologists, local and international schools.
Leapfrogs also participates in outreach programs to local schools in Singapore and has trained over 40 local preschools about early detection and intervention. We will also be conducting a workshop for over 60 Allied Educators this summer about strategies and ideas to support children with special needs in the Primary and Secondary ages. We have also been privileged to be able to support over 40 families that needed financial support over the years through subsidises and creative collaborations with their parents and public organization.
What is your proudest accomplishment since launching Leapfrogs?
To date, over 6,000 children with special needs have been helped, enabling them to improve their daily lives and the lives of those around them. Children and parents entering the program are evaluated to identify underlying issues so that a specific individual treatment program can be customised with frequent staff meetings to review the child’s progress.
Our favourite moments as a team are often when we can laugh over our lunches together about all the changes and growth that we see in the children and their quirky antics; a child who entered not being able to learn or speak 2 years later accusing us of being “Wicked, and evil like the step sisters in Cinderella” while likening herself to poor Cinderella when told she has to complete all her tasks; a boy who couldn’t read the word “apple” in grade 3, managed to do well for an important level exam known as the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE); and another child who struggled to have eye contact or interact at 5 years of age now going for “Man-Dates” with his dad to talk about “important man business.” All delights that make our work and lives so purpose-filled.
Thanks Michelle! To find out more about Leapfrogs, visit their Facebook page or give them a call, mama!
Leapfrogs, 144 Bukit Timah Road, Singapore 229844, Tel: (+65) 6733 1992, www.leap-frogs.com
Brought to you in partnership with Leapfrogs