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Getting to know Yvonne Becher



Name

Dr. Yvonne Becher

BA (Hons.), MClin Psych, PhD

Chief Executive/ Director, Programme Development & Learning, Child Development Centre


Place of Birth:

Frankfurt, Germany


Year of Arrival in HK:

1992



What brought you to Hong Kong?


The adventurous spirit of my then-boyfriend, now-husband, who persuaded me to explore the wonders of South East Asia for “two” years.



How did you get involved with the special needs community?


I had always thought of becoming a teacher but when it was time to enrol at university there was a surplus of teachers in the market, so I looked through a career advisory book for alternatives. When I was reading the job description of education psychologists, I realised that identifying and helping a child with special needs from the earliest moment possible was what I was truly passionate about.



How are you currently involved with the special needs community?


I joined the Child Development Centre ("CDC") in 2004 as a part-time psychologist and returned after taking time out in 2018 to pursue further studies at HKU for 3 years, writing my thesis on school readiness of non-Cantonese speaking children with additional needs in Hong Kong.


After my return in 2011, I soon became the head of a team of psychologists. In 2018 I took on the full-time roles of Director, Programme Development & Learning and also Acting Chief Executive, following which I agreed to become the Chief Executive.

I am the current head of the CDC and I am still clinically active. I continue to conduct diagnostic assessments, lead workshops for professionals and/or parents, and arrange consultations for parents on anything early childhood and/or special needs related.



Please tell us about the Child Development Centre


The CDC is a non-profit early intervention facility for children of predominantly early childhood and primary school age (0 - 12) who have additional needs. The CDC has provided support in English and Chinese for over 40 years and adopts an interdisciplinary play-based approach to facilitate children’s development, taking into account each child’s individual needs.


Apart from diagnostic assessments, we provide group or individual early intervention, embracing speech therapy, occupational/motor therapy, sensory processing and/or social skills training, as well as early literacy/ numeracy, attention and/ or behavioural support.


We advise and constantly monitor which group or therapy is the best fit for each child’s needs. Children attend anywhere between one to five times a week for individual or group intervention.


The CDC serves across all ethnic groups and is committed to serving families as well as the whole community. We help empower parents as well as fellow professionals through family support and counselling, professional school support, outreach screening, and child development training.



Who is eligible to apply?


Any parent who is concerned about any aspect of a child’s development or learning or who would like to know more about early childhood development, developmental or learning disorders, or is seeking an assessment (up to the age of 16) or intervention for their child. Parents may do so directly, i.e., a referral letter is not necessary.


Individual therapy sessions are open to children from a few months old to around 10 years old, and our groups can accommodate children from 18 months old to around 10 years of age. Our psychologists will see children of any school age and below.



Are you able to accommodate different types of special needs?


We work with a wide variety and all levels of special needs, which we actually refer to as “additional needs”. This includes all kinds of developmental delays or disorders, as well as behavioural or emotional challenges.


On the rare occasion where our multi-disciplinary team’s expertise is not sufficient (i.e., occasional complex medical conditions), we will explore other resources throughout the Hong Kong community to find the best fitting support for the child and their family.



What are some of the more common issues that you come across when working with children with special needs?


Language issues are very common across a wide variety of special needs conditions so suspected delays should be addressed or monitored as soon as possible to determine whether it is just a language difficulty or part of another diagnosis.


Inattention can have many causes but is easily labelled as “naughty behaviour” or attention deficit. It is always worthwhile to investigate if the presenting behaviour fits the clinical diagnosis of ADHD (usually only issued around the age of 6, occasionally earlier) or if it is a secondary outcome due to other challenges that may cause a child to “switch off”.



Are there any specific issues that parents can look out for that would otherwise go unnoticed?


There are some signs that are commonly known to look out for, like tip-toe walking beyond the age of three or not maintaining eye contact.


Some other behaviours include the lining up of toys rather than playing with them, avoidance or seeking of sensory input such as being visually fascinated by spinning fans or washing machines, extreme noise-sensitivity, or constantly seeking to touch the surroundings.


Parents should not feel too alarmed but should take their child to a paediatrician or psychologist to share their concerns and see if there is anything more behind it.



Under what circumstances would you suggest that parents bring their child to see a psychologist?


Whenever a parent is concerned about their child performing at extremes (far behind or far advanced for their age), or when anything seems atypical for their age.


There are several ways that a psychologist can provide support:


1) to give re-assurance or advice if an in-depth assessment is indicated;


2) to provide tips for behaviour management and parenting skills;


3) to conduct a psycho-educational evaluation;


4) a psychologist may also suggest and/or provide one-on-one sessions with the child for mental health support in case of anxiety, depression, not coping, etc.



What is a psycho-educational evaluation?


This includes a thorough investigation of a child’s intellectual, (pre-) academic, social, behavioural or attention-related functioning, leading to a diagnosis where applicable e.g. ADHD, autism, developmental delay, dyslexia, anxiety/depression, etc.


It would also include recommendations of what steps to take next and where to seek professional help.


Apart from its diagnostic purposes, psycho-educational evaluations often play a significant part in the application process for a primary school place with Special Educational Needs ("SEN") support and to periodically, i.e. every few years, review the child's needs in order to adjust the academic or social support that may be required.



Does the CDC provide any additional assessments?


We also offer the following:


1) Developmental Assessment (up to the functioning age of 6 years)


A developmental assessment evaluates across the various developmental areas and is conducted by speech and occupational therapists together with our SEN Teachers or Special Child Care Workers. This is useful to set developmental goals and/or monitor the overall progress of a child.


It differs from a psycho-educational assessment which is more focused on intellectual development and can only be conducted by a psychologist.

2) Comprehensive Occupational Therapy Assessment


This assessment focuses in depth on anything gross- and/or fine-motor as well as sensory-related. This could be useful when a child struggles with handwriting, self-help/ independence skills, balance/ coordination, eating or chewing, or sensory-related processing to name just a few.


What advice can you offer parents in their search for the right school for their child with special needs?


As parents, you should be looking for a school that is the “right fit”, i.e., has the resources and attitude that fits with what your child needs. For this purpose, a psycho-educational evaluation is useful as it gives a child’s profile of strengths and weaknesses as well as a possible diagnosis.


Also, make a shortlist of schools you would consider based on the above but also other logistics like distance from your home, and finances. Do not rely too much on other parents telling you that a certain school is best just because it works for their child.


Always visit the shortlisted schools on their open house day and talk to the staff, asking questions about their resources for a child with special needs, and see how comfortable you feel as a parent at each school.



How has education support for students with special needs evolved in the past 10 years and in what ways is it getting better?

Many schools in Hong Kong have become more aware as well as more flexible in how to accommodate students with special needs. This means that they often put more resources such as specialised learning or counselling support staff into place and/or allow children to hold a fidgety toy during lessons or support extended exam times, where needed.


The Hong Kong government has also stepped up significantly in identifying and addressing special educational needs in early childhood up to the age of 6 years. Depending on the level of support needed, intervention services will be available within kindergartens that participate in the On-site Pre-school Rehabilitation Services scheme ("OPRS") or through Early Education Training Centres ("EETCs") or Special Child Care Centres ("SCCCs").


Admission to any of these is through the Social Welfare Department which places children on a waiting list for either Cantonese or English services: https://www.swd.gov.hk/en/index/site_pubsvc/page_rehab/sub_listofserv/id_serpresch/


It can be a confusing process but the good news is that the CDC can explain the procedure, offer advice and refer families to the waiting list for these government preschool services. The CDC also runs one of the only two English-medium EETCs.



What are some areas that need improvement?


SEN support is provided at different levels across schools and some schools are more progressive than others. In Hong Kong, there is also more government support for children with special needs who speak Cantonese, despite English being one of the national languages.


This is a dilemma for families who cannot afford international school fees but are non-Cantonese speakers. A lot more SEN places are needed throughout Hong Kong’s schools, especially for non-Cantonese speakers.



What are some of the positive outcomes that you have noticed over the years in those who have joined the CDC?


Early intervention is key and can also build long-term support networks for families. The families who have joined the CDC not only benefit from the professional input but also from a wealth of expertise regarding school choices and the genuine care of the CDC staff for each child and family – no matter how long or short we are part of a family’s journey.


As a result, many families still feel comfortable to consult us a few years after they leave the CDC, regarding (re-)assessment or input when their child is in primary school or even older as the CDC has been with them on the learning journey from the start.



What have been some of the rewards and challenges of working with children with special needs?


It is always rewarding to witness a child’s progress, irrespective of how small, and celebrate those moments with their family. The value of these occasions far outweighs the challenges.


The challenges can stem from working with many stakeholders at the same time and trying to get everyone on the same page including the child’s parents, teachers, SEN support staff at the school, other therapists or tutors involved as well as our own multi-disciplinary team.


Genuinely respecting everyone’s input is key as is never losing sight of working towards what is best for the child and their family.



Where can parents find more information about the CDC and how to get in touch?


The CDC has a website: www.cdchk.org


Parents are welcome to submit an enquiry form through our website under “We Do"


Our Programme Officer may be contacted for further information via email at info@cdchk.org or phone at 2849 6138



Disclaimer: This content is for your information only and is not a substitute for medical and/or other professional advice, examination, or treatment. The views expressed are those of the individuals profiled and do not necessarily reflect the views of Transformative Movement Limited. Transformative Movement Limited makes no warranties or guarantees regarding any outcome, result, or improvement based on any method, programme, or treatment mentioned. If you have any concerns regarding your/your child's particular condition, please consult a doctor. The inclusion of any links to other websites is for general information purposes only and does not imply a recommendation or endorsement of the views expressed within them by Transformative Movement Limited. Transformative Movement Limited has no control over the nature, content, accuracy, or availability of the information contained in those websites.

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