Meet Dr. Vanessa von Auer, whose work in the field of special needs education is filling a gaping hole in Singapore’s international school scene.
Born to a German father and a Chinese mother, Vanessa von Auer spent her early years in Germany, before relocating to Singapore as a teen due to her father’s work commitments. It didn’t take her long to find her calling in psychology, and she went on to study psychology in the United States and Singapore, before completing her Master’s and Doctorate in Australia at Monash University and James Cook University, respectively.
One Part Doctor, One Part Principal
Vanessa has been practicing in Singapore since 2005, when she first began to work mainly with children that had autism and their families. She set up the VA Psychology Center (VAPC), a “one-stop shop for emotional and psychological well-being,” in 2008 to offer clients a different environment. “I felt that since therapy is something that has such empowering healing effects on the person’s entire being, the atmosphere in which this healing takes place should be spa-like and family-oriented,” she says.
Her work at VAPC shone a light on another pressing matter. “Five children under 6 years of age started as clients at the VA Psychology Center, and did not have a school to attend. I felt that these children deserved to enjoy a school experience, so I began a pilot programme for them,” says Vanessa. Its popularity motivated Vanessa to establish the Integrated International School (IIS), one of two schools in Singapore to offer both mainstream and special needs education.
Setting up the school wasn’t easy either, as many presume that children with unique needs aren’t capable of success in an educational environment. But misconceptions have not slowed her down, and she frequently invites visitors, families and professionals to take a tour of IIS to see each inspiring student in action. Vanessa’s husband even left his career as a lawyer because of VAPC and the IIS’s growing success. He now assists in business and legal matters.
The Balancing Act
Vanessa makes it a point to maintain a healthy work-life balance. “I try very hard to complete all I need to at work so that I do not have to take anything back home,” she says. “This ensures that once I reach home, I can enjoy a few fun hours with
my family.” It’s an approach that Vanessa finds necessary, especially since she and her husband became parents to 7-month-old Alannah. They enjoy their bonding time with Alannah, and one of their favourite activities is bath time with the baby, which provides a powerful emotional connection by activating oxytocin, or the “cuddle hormone,” Vanessa says.
While their new roles as parents are exhilarating, Vanessa and her husband make sure to carve out time in each hectic day to spend quality time together as a couple. “We treasure our walks with our dogs and Alannah, our errands or our meals at home together,” she says. “We can check in with each other and talk about stuff other than work.”
Occupation: Clinical Director of VA Psychology Center (VAPC) & Principal at the Integrated International School (IIS)
Home country: Germany
Favourite Singaporean dish: Rojak – a fruit and vegetable salad (pictured).
Hobbies: Baking, pottery and keeping and breeding tropical fish.
Three words that describe Her BEST: Passionate, determined and authentic
Motto to live by: “Whatever the mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve.” – Napolean Hill
By Hazel Vincent De Paul, The Finder, October 2015