Once Tongue Tied, She Now Aspires to Become a Speech Therapist

Meet SITizen Nafisah binte Zulkifli ​​​​​​​from the Speech and Language Therapy programme.

Meet SITizen Nafisah binte Zulkifli from the Speech and Language Therapy programme. 



On a seemingly normal day out, a then four-year-old Nafisah binte Zulkifli was eating ice-cream when things got a little out of hand. She had accidentally smeared ice-cream all over her face. A messy eater since she was a toddler, young Nafisah was not new to eating issues. But this particular incident sounded the alarm for her mother because Nafisah complained that her tongue hurt. They went to the clinic the following day and the doctor discovered that Nafisah had tongue-tie – a medical condition that limits tongue movements. This also caused her to struggle with her speech. She could not pronounce certain words with the “schwa” vowel, which was particularly important in the Malay language. After a successful corrective surgery, her speech and swallowing abilities become normal – much to the relief of Nafisah and her parents.

Finding Her Own Path

Now 21, Nafisah’s past experience has motivated her to become a speech therapist, so she can help children with speech disabilities to read, write, and speak.

Since young, she has always enjoyed reading and writing, and finds joy in communicating with people, especially children. Nafisah  attributes her love for working with children to her parents, who are both primary school educators. The close bonds she shares with her siblings and cousins also gave Nafisah the confidence that she could work well with children.

Having previously studied in a junior college that emphasised a structured approach to learning, Nafisah desired a higher education experience that offers more hands-on practice. She found her calling when the Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT) launched the Speech and Language Therapy (SLT) degree programme in 2020 – the first undergraduate degree programme of its kind in Singapore.

Now in the second year of her studies, she is on her way to realising her dream of becoming a speech therapist.

Taking a Leap of Faith

The SLT programme covers physiological and anatomical knowledge as well as communication and critical thinking skills. The real-world application of the subjects was what drew Nafisah to the programme.

Being in the pioneer cohort, however, did come with challenges. Nafisah did not have any seniors to consult, and many of her classes were held online due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Nonetheless, with the help of her teachers and friendly classmates, she was able to adapt quickly in the following trimesters.

Additionally, through the Integrated Work Study Programme (IWSP), a key component of the applied learning pedagogy at SIT, Nafisah was assigned three different clinical placements, allowing her to interact with people of all ages and from all walks of life.

One of her most memorable placements during the pandemic was when she had the opportunity to engage preschool children through online story telling. She read them stories and conducted play activities on a virtual platform. Seeing the kids’ active participation gave her the greatest satisfaction.

Nafisah also worked with the elderly on an adult rehabilitation programme where she was assigned to screen patients, check their swallowing abilities, and feed them at meal times.

“Clinical placements help us gain experiential skills and a realistic picture of on-ground situations,” she said.

Nafisah took a leap of faith to join SLT. But it has worked out in her favour – she is now more determined than ever to pursue a career in speech therapy. She hopes to join the community sector and specialise in paediatric intervention one day.

“I hope to work in a community setting with children who have neurological disorders. Ideally, I would like to serve in a role that would allow me to combine my interests in nurturing children and speech therapy,” she said.