Cover Photo: Inspire Psychology

“All the children that I have worked with possess strengths, talents and abilities that most people do not see because of societal standards. My dream is to have a centre for these children where they can exercise their gifts in a safe and accepting environment,” says Samantha Tang

Mother’s Day is a time to honour the incredible women around us who seamlessly juggle work and motherhood, who make sacrifices and who perpetually put their families ahead of themselves.

This year, we are shining the spotlight on a mum who is doing everything not just for her two kids who suffer from rare disorders, but also for other children and their families who are struggling. 

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Samantha Tang was only 13 when she decided that she wanted to work with children with special needs after a volunteering stint at a family service centre opened her eyes to the challenges these individuals and their families faced. After working with various disabled communities in her youth, Tang realised that there was a great need in the community.

“The experience opened my eyes to the societal gaps and the challenges that different families were facing. It also showed me the resilience and sacrifices that parents and caregivers make and I just knew that there was so much more that could be done for them,” Tang shared candidly. 

This was what initially drew her to the field of psychology. Tang completed her degree in Science at the University of Melbourne before going on to do a Graduate Diploma in Science (Psychology) at the University of Sydney and a Master’s degree in special education and teaching at the University of Sheffield. 

Upon graduating, Tang started her career as a psychologist at KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital before joining various private clinics that helped children with special needs.

Over her two decades in clinical practice, Tang amassed incredible knowledge about handling children with a wide range of developmental challenges and learnt how to assess and diagnose developmental problems as well as how to prepare reports to get children placed in special education schools.

This education is exactly what Tang credits when she was able, later in life, to notice that something was amiss with her eldest son. 

“I have three children. My eldest is Samuel, who was born in 2009. Then there’s Caleb, who unfortunately passed away at 22 weeks in 2011 due to massive heart issues that the doctors could not resolve safely,” Tang shared. “I delivered him and sadly he passed away about five minutes later,” she said before admitting that the traumatic incident has given her nightmares since.

“Thankfully and to my immense joy, I got pregnant again shortly after we recovered from the loss of Caleb and I gave birth to my youngest son, Joshua, in 2012,” she continued. 

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While 2011 was marked with significant grief surrounding the loss of Caleb, no one could have predicted that things would continue to go downhill. In 2011, when Samuel was just two years old, he was diagnosed with Steroid Resistant Nephrotic Syndrome, a complex illness that would require the child to be on continuous immune suppressants throughout his life. 

“As he grew slightly older, and because of my training, I was able to pick up on other symptoms that manifested such as dyslexia, dyspraxia, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and separation anxiety,” Tang shared. This resulted in Samuel being given early childhood intervention, a process that Tang was heavily involved in as a result of her training and great love for her child. 

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As Samuel was growing and learning to cope with his challenges, his younger brother, Joshua, at only nine months of age, was diagnosed with Global Developmental Delay, a medical term used for children who take longer to reach certain developmental milestones than other children. 

By the age of two, doctors had diagnosed Joshua with a rare disorder known as Leigh’s Syndrome, the French Canadian type.

Leigh’s Syndrome is a condition which affects movement and mental ability and individuals diagnosed with the condition have distinctive facial features. They also can experience delayed developmental milestones in their growth, crawling, walking, and talking due to progressive muscle weakness and deterioration of the brain, according to Eugene Labs, a genetic health test system.

French Canadian types of the disease rarely live beyond infancy unless they experience milder symptoms.

“Joshua is 10 years old now and although he is very much bed-bound and dependent on tube feeding and machines to assist in his breathing, he is responsive to me and communicates his joy with a glitter in his eye,” Tang said with a smile. “He does not respond verbally but our family has been through so much that we are bonded by this very special connection that transcends words.”

While dealing with these kinds of devastating familial challenges would have floored most people, Tang, ever the optimist was determined not to let that happen. 

“My sons’ condition actually fueled my passion even further to help children and families in need. I recognised that my motherhood journey, though arduous, helped me to relate even more with the families that I work with,” Tang shared. 

“After receiving the diagnosis, I put on my action cap and tried my best to seek out proper intervention and therapies for them. In hindsight, I should have taken time to take care of myself and work through my emotions during that period. I was emotionally depleted and physically drained. It was honestly the love for my sons that sustained me every single day during that time,” Tang said honestly. 

It was through this process that Tang began to have an even deeper and more personal understanding of the challenges that families with special needs children go through. 

“Researching the number of available options from mainstream to alternative health options can be so immense and not only can it be mentally draining to go through every single option, but it can also prove to be financially challenging for some families,” Tang said. “It’s an ongoing process of learning about the different approaches that can support our children. At the same time, we must be aware of our limitations and learn to draw a balance between caring for our children and for ourselves,” she said.

It was these struggles and difficulties that led Tang to develop the idea of starting Inspire Psychology.

Inspire Psychology was started in 2019 as a result of the rising need for a  network that can empower families of children with special needs and it served a multitude of needs. 

For one, Inspire Psychology assesses children that are referred to them for various concerns. The experienced team will then recommend a course of action for parents and the child’s school. They will also provide support and training programs for kids and parents to teach them how to cope and intervene. 

Inspire Psychology also provides off-site sessions for various organisations where they work with counsellors and people who work with kids with special needs to help them understand how they can help them in the best way possible. 

“We recently did a training session with the Singapore Police Force to help them with strategies to manage individuals with special needs,” Tang said.

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Of course, starting Inspire Psychology, though a great passion project of Tang’s, was not easy.

“It was a huge learning curve because running a business does not come second nature to me unlike being a psychologist,” Tang said. “Running my own practice meant that I needed to stay on top of the accounts, manage a team and be constantly up to date with the news around the world so that we can foster a wider network,” Tang said. 

She continued by adding that building Inspire Psychology is a continuous process of putting together a team of like-minded individuals who are passionate about helping children and carrying out programmes and interventions for them.

“It’s like putting together a team of Avengers except instead of saving the world, we are helping special needs kids and giving them and their caregivers special powers,” Tang said with a laugh. 

Currently, Inspire Psychology provides a wide range of programmes that are catered to the varying needs of the children they work with and they regularly tailor the programmes to suit the needs of the children. They also carry out intervention programmes that require highly trained professionals such as the Tomatis Listening program. This programme relies on advanced technology to stimulate an individual’s neuro senses through real-time changes in music and voice. 

“I am also trained in delivering the Lindamood-Bell programs such as the Visualising and Verbalising that develop concept imagery that helps with comprehension and higher-order thinking as well as the Seeing Stars programme which is helpful in getting kids to read and spell,” Tang said. 

Over the years, Inspire Psychology has grown in strength and reach. However, it was only when Covid-19 struck that the organisation was able to really show its full strength. 

“The pandemic really forced us to look into alternative ways of delivering our programs in ways like never before,” she shared. “We were able to bring our counselling sessions online so our clients were able to have therapy sessions in the comfort and familiarity of their own homes which was very helpful for them,” Tang said. 

She added that the safe-distancing measures imposed by Covid-19 ended up being a blessing in disguise because it meant that special needs kids who were uncomfortable with strangers being in close proximity got some reprieve. 

“In the past, such close proximity, along with the noise and crowd, gave rise to unnecessary tantrums from the kids and this was obviously very stressful for both parent and child. So the pandemic actually helped in a way,” said Tang.

“During the pandemic, I was also able to speak to overseas audiences through Zoom and it was really helpful in continuing to bring about awareness for the necessary change to make the community more inclusive and accepting,” she said.

When asked how many families Inspire Psychology has impacted though, Tang was quick to say that it was not a matter of numbers but rather, the ripple effect of their work that counted. 

“One can boast about numbers but to me, numbers do not equate to anything if the end goal of helping both parent and child is not achieved. Each family is so unique and some challenges can be very intricate. The fulfilment comes when we help each of these families journey through life’s rich tapestry,” Tang said humbly. 

Today, Inspire Psychology continues to reach out to kids and parents in the special needs community and to engage various stakeholders to make a positive change in the mindsets of people and to create an environment in which every special needs kid can thrive. 

As she does this, she continues to care for her two boys and support them as they move through life with Samuel starting secondary school this year.

“It is only through working with my sons that I’ve realised just how lonely the journey of a parent or caregiver can be and I recognise how important it is to build a village and to gather expertise and support to assist more families and children and that is my goal here,” Tang concluded. 

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