This 29-year-old speech therapist is passionate about making a difference in people’s lives
Ashley Tong helps children and patients overcome their speech and language issues in her career.
There are jobs that can make you feel rewarded when you achieve certain goals. Then there are jobs that can make you feel rewarded, because you have made an impact in someone else’s life.
Perhaps even changing their life for the better, too.
For 29-year-old speech therapist Ashley Tong, every day reminds her of why she does what she does.
“I think every day is quite unexpected and little miracles can happen. In my three years I have witnessed things like seeing a child walk for the first time or getting them to be able to express their needs and it might not even be in a verbal manner.
“Seeing them progress, hearing feedback from other teachers and their parents, that’s incredibly rewarding for me,” Ashley says.
Ashley has been in her role for three years now, working with children to help them with their social communication skills, articulation and language skills.
She studied psychology as her undergraduate degree and has a minor in linguistics. During her studies, she gravitated towards child development and saw speech therapist as a possible career.
“It felt like a really good overlap of the things that I wanted to do. So I’ve always been interested in teaching and healthcare, so helping people and speech therapy felt like a really good blend of the both,” she shares.
Unlike in the movies or shows, Ashley is not bound to an office room. She is a “travelling therapist” and works in various preschools and centres.
Her work hours are not fixed. It depends on the number of children she sees each day – it can range from two to six – with each session lasting about 45 minutes each. During these sessions, Ashley tries to help them overcome their speech issues or, for some, their troubles with communication too.
“Even if you can pronounce things perfectly, you might not be putting words together in the right order. We also work on social communication so a child may know and understand language and they may be able to repeat after you,” she explains.
Correcting a child’s speech takes time and patience. Ashley tries her best to identify the kind of mistakes made, so she can apply the correct processes required to help them overcome their issues. This includes the use of pictures and associating it to the sounds.
“Sometimes, for certain children, just that alone can make them pronounce the sound correctly to get the right meaning. For some children it is a bit harder and then I’ll have to go into producing the sound in isolation, so not in a word but the lip shape,” Ashley explains.
After each session, she has to write notes for teachers and parents to update them on the children’s progress. Ashley will also advise them on the activities they can do at home or in the classroom to reinforce what was taught.
While the thought of having the responsibility to help children in their speech and language may sound stressful, Ashley has found many moments throughout her career which makes her feel that her efforts and time are worthwhile. It also helps that Ashley finds working with children enjoyable.
Ashley also shares that speech therapists do also work with patients with voice disorders and swallowing issues, to the point where they have trouble eating and drinking. They are are usually people who have suffered a head injury or a stroke and these are usually encountered in hospitals. There are also times where she also works with babies who have difficulties swallowing fluids or solid food.
To Ashley, seeing her students and patients hit milestones, no matter how small, are gratifying.
Yet, it wasn’t all rosy. When she first started her job, the large number of clients overwhelmed her and she felt burnt out quickly.
“I felt like it was very hard to give my 100 per cent to all the children… I had moments where I broke down in the office,” she recalls.
While those days are in the past, the COVID-19 pandemic has made her work more challenging. The requirement of wearing a mask, even during therapy sessions, means that children are not able to observe her lips movement while teaching them and she’s had to find creative ways to work around it.
“Until now, the children and I are not allowed to remove our masks. So you can imagine how challenging that is, they can’t see what I’m doing. I have to rely on my hearing to know if they’re pronouncing things a certain way.
“We turn to things like video modelling so if I can’t be here to model, I have a video of myself taken at home that I can send to parents,” Ashley adds.
For those interested in a career like her’s, Ashley advises: “You can reach out to organisations like social service agencies, hospitals and schools. See if there are opportunities to volunteer and job shadow at the same time because we always need people to help us with making resources.”
If you are still on the fence, Ashley has a message for you too.
“Speech therapy is particularly rewarding because we deal with communication and eating and that’s the two biggest things. I mean, what are we without these things?
“If you feel like you want to make a difference in someone’s life in any of these aspects, then consider this as your career,” she says.