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Judith Julia Justin on providing unique rehabilitative therapy services for children with disabilities

Written by Taro Ishida Published on 

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Inspired by her son Jake, Judith is working hard to provide more physical therapy options in Singapore.

Two decades in the branding and communications business has given Judith Julia Justin the tenacity, smarts, and empathy to develop unique solutions for her clients during times of celebration and crisis. Little did she know that this experience would prove to be inspirational and invaluable. When her son Jake was born, Judith knew nothing about rehabilitation therapy. This changed quickly, as she struggled to find the right fit in therapy options for Jake, who suffered a severe hypoxic brain injury at birth. She was fortunate enough to be able to travel the world for treatments and therapies that could make a real difference to him. Over the years, Judith also sought training and became certified in physical therapy, NeuroSuit, the TheraSuit Method, and Cuevas Medek Exercises (CME). WINGS Therapy Center is her dream come to life, a place of hope that provides infants and children with cutting-edge physical therapy. Most recently, Judith was named as one of the “Great Women of 2018” by Singapore’s Women’s Weekly for her contribution to the public service and education sector.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

KrASIA (Kr): What is the story behind WINGS Therapy Center and the unique services you provide? 

Judith Julia Justin (JJJ): WINGS was founded in 2017, inspired by my son, Jake Knight. He was diagnosed with a rare genetic mutation called NACC1, and is one of 16 kids worldwide with it. Prior to that, he was diagnosed with quadriplegic cerebral palsy. Quadriplegic cerebral palsy is when the injury caused to the brain has affected all four limbs, vision, mode of speech, and hearing, sometimes. As the years went by, we found that he was different from other kids with cerebral palsy.

He was attending therapy services in Singapore, which were good but were not going to help him live a better life. They were maintenance services and I found them to be quite traditional. It accepted the child’s condition, but didn’t push them further. To begin with, I found stem cells therapy, so I whisked Jake away to China.

Later, I started him on suit therapy, inspired by the Russian astronaut program. When astronauts got back from space, they suffered muscular atrophy. Their muscles had wasted away and their gait was akin to people that suffer from cerebral palsy or neuromuscular disorders. They designed this suit to give the body function. Since then, suit therapy has been used for people with special needs. It is a different way of communicating with the child. I knew then that kids with special needs have high intelligence, but not the ability to express themselves in ways that we would express ourselves. There are too many limitations being placed on them from a very early age. It’s not just in Asia, it’s all over the world.

Before suit therapy, I attended the Glenn Doman program. There, I learned a lot about how to deal with kids who are nonverbal and ambulatory. Then I went on to suit therapy in another intensive therapy center in Los Angeles. We would always go through an intensive model of therapy. It’s a boot camp. For three weeks, the kids go for two to four hours of therapy. Following that, I took my son to Cuevas Medek Exercises (CME). That was the journey with my son that led me here.

Kr: Are all the techniques that you mentioned offered at WINGS? 

JJJ: Yes. Suit therapies, spider cage, universal exercise unit, Cuevas Medek Exercises—they are all offered here. My entire team and myself are specially trained to offer these therapies.

Do we do traditional therapy? We do not. It takes far too long. What a child gains from a three-week intensive is what they would gain from a whole year of therapy. Time is our greatest enemy. You get bigger, gravity hits you, therapy gets harder.

Kr: You touched on the lack of options in Singapore. Are they readily available overseas? 

JJJ: They are not. We have one kid, and he’s the only one with his condition that can walk in the whole entire world. These therapy teams require highly specialized therapists. A kid could come to us with a genetic condition that only has 200 cases globally. Research has said that these kids will never walk, crawl, or sit. We are just one in about five or six centers around the world that offer these services. There’s a center in Europe, two in North America, one in Australia, one in the Middle East, and then there’s us. CME therapists? There’s only about 800 or 900 therapists around the world.

Kr: Why is there such a lack of options globally? 

JJJ: These therapies are considered avant-garde. There isn’t enough research and double-blind studies to medically prove that these therapies work. However, parents don’t care about the research, only the progress of their kids. Ramon Cuevas, the founder of CME, has made 40,000 children walk in his lifetime of 76 years. It’s the same with suit therapy. You just need to have the right training, expertise, and tools.

Judith Julia Justin with son Jake. Photo courtesy of WINGS Therapy Center.

Kr: Aside from the lack of access to therapy options for children and the inequity it creates, what else do we need to pay attention to? 

JJJ: The medical community needs to recognise these therapies. There are some medical practitioners and traditional therapists that are starting to take notice. For many years, I did try to talk to the private sector and to public organizations to provide options.

I found my answer here, with all these different therapies. I used to host intensives in my house. Therapists would arrive from the United States, engage with a team of ten kids, and treat them. However, it wasn’t sustainable financially because we had to pay for flights, accommodation, and food for a whole month. Each family would have to pay approximately SGD 10,000 for an intensive that is between two to four hours. That’s when I decided to learn these techniques. I started getting certified and treating my own son first. I got all my skills attending courses, training, going to Chile, working with the master of CME, working with a master of NeuroSuit.

Kr: Are you seeing an impact in the wider community? Are people becoming more aware about WINGS? 

JJJ: We’re getting there slowly, but surely. Parents have a tough journey because they are listening to advice from many different people—doctors, therapists, family. Very often, there’s not a lot of hope in this area. They start searching for an answer, and that’s when they come to us. A lot of parents are so happy because they don’t need to go to the United States for therapy; they can just fly to Singapore. We had a lot of kids from Southeast Asia pre-COVID. Currently, our center caters for local and foreign kids. The parents are all paying for their kids to become independent.

It’s been fantastic because we’ve had thousands of kids from across Asia who have knocked on our doors since we’ve opened.

Kr: In the long run, do you hope to see your therapy techniques become more widely practiced? 

JJJ: In time, globally, the medical community will accept these techniques. There are a lot of research studies being done on suit therapy. It’s been used on adults with Parkinson’s. I do feel quite positive.

Singapore is starting to focus on the special needs communities with better facilities, schools, and education. While we are behind, I think it’s starting to change. A lot of our customers are parents who are in their early 30s, with young children with special needs, and they’re looking for an answer.

Very often, for kids with special disabilities, it’s the lack of movement which causes respiratory issues, digestive issues, contractures, and dislocated bones. Movement is essential to us. If you don’t move the child’s body, how do their joints develop? They can’t. It’s a very simple concept to understand.

Kr: What are some other services or initiatives that parents with kids with disabilities should be aware of? 

JJJ: Parents need to be aware that there is a solution for their child. They just need to look for the right avenue to get that solution. When you hear that your child will never walk, talk, or move, you need to push against those statements and give hope and inspiration to your child.  They shouldn’t lose hope. There are a lot of services. Singapore has grown exponentially, especially in the last five years. There are a lot of private schools that work with special kids. There are a lot of new services on the market. Don’t give up.

WRITTEN BY

Taro Ishida

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