Building a Successful Paediatric Therapy Centre and Understanding Children’s Development with Kim Nicolson
Kim Nicolson is the Founder and Director of Kaleidoscope Therapy Centre which she has built together with her business partner, Suki Pitkola. Kim is a Paediatric Occupational Therapist who has been in the field since the eighties after getting her qualification in Scotland. Thanks to her personality paired with passion, working with children came naturally to Kim and she never fails to find joy and satisfaction in doing so. Since having established Kaleidoscope Therapy Centre in 1999, Kim and her team has shaped the centre to become one of the largest multidisciplinary private therapy practices in Singapore.
Outside of work, Kim is also a dedicated mother to two daughters, 15 and 16 years old. Kim actively implements the strong beliefs and knowledge she has of children's development as a therapist and as a mother, while helping families learn how to better aid their child's development.
Her hobbies include anything that involves action, adventure and nature. Although Kim has toned the adventure slightly down after becoming a mother, you’ll still find her first in line at trying out any exciting new activities and staying active!
I qualified as an occupational therapist in Scotland in the eighties and only worked there for 18 months, before moving across the world on a working adventure to Singapore. This is my 34th year here.
I really wanted to experience living overseas so I would eagerly check my professional journal every month for jobs abroad. When I saw there was a role available with the ministry of health here I jumped at the chance, even though I knew absolutely nothing about Singapore. I was astounded by the heat when I arrived and horrified that I was expected to work a 5 and a half day week, although that didn’t dampen our party lifestyle. There were lots of expats working in hospitals here at the time.
I spent my twenties having fun travelling whenever I could, including backpacking through Indonesia and Australia, hanging out on the islands off the east coast of Malaysia, and diving in beautiful locations. My twenties really fueled a sense of adventure in me. Living in a foreign country made me appreciate my family, friendships and my Scottish roots. I had never really thought much about my heritage before. I also learned to appreciate different cultures, as I met so many people from all over the world.
In my thirties I got more serious about my career and discovered that my passion was working with children. I then became quite focused on building my skills in this area, so I did all the training that I could afford, both locally and overseas.
My passion for working with children came about whilst I was working in the Cerebral Palsy Association. Children, especially those with physical disabilities, are incredibly resilient and have an amazing ability to be happy. I realised that I had the right personality, and a natural ability to connect with young people, and that gave me a lot of satisfaction. When you work with children you are continually learning and having to add new tools to your therapy tool kit. It’s challenging but very rewarding.
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I consider building one of the largest multidisciplinary private therapy practices in Singapore, with my long-term business partner Suvi Pitkola, to be my biggest work achievement.
I opened Kaleidoscope with Suvi in 1999 and we quickly realised that we shared the vision of having a centre where parents could access many services under one roof, with a team of therapists who shared our philosophy of family-focused, child-centred care. To be honest, Kaleidoscope’s growth has overwhelmed us at times, as, being therapists, not business people, we have felt out of our depth with the financial, and management, aspects of it over the years. Luckily, we now have a great administrative team, and a new business partner, to do the jobs we were floundering with!
Since my profession is still predominantly female, I have not faced the kind of biases other women have faced in their careers. Having my own business means that I have been a ‘boss’ at work since we opened Kaleidoscope and this has given me an incredible amount of freedom and for that I am truly grateful. I get to work with some amazing, inspirational, colleagues and, as you would expect from therapists, we strive to be respectful of, and caring towards, each other, although sometimes having a team with millennial and menopause members in it can be interesting!
I find it inspiring to work in a mainly female environment. And the men who are a part of our team are not A type personalities so they don’t try to dominate. We try hard to ensure that there isn’t a hierarchy and that everyone feels they have a voice at the table. Being mostly women, means we don’t have to hide our emotional side and we are comfortable talking about ‘girl’ stuff over lunch.
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My hobbies were more adventurous for sure before I became a mum at the ripe old age of 40. I water skied, windsurfed (badly) and generally loved anything that revolved around beaches and water. Diving was definitely my biggest passion, but I’ve always enjoyed hiking in nature and seeing wildlife in natural habitats. (Seeing a snake on my MacRitchie walk for example will make my week!) I used to enjoy doing triathlons and I loved biking around Singapore every Saturday, trying to keep up with the boys in lycra too. I was just getting into adventure racing when I decided I had better crack on with motherhood.
I’m trying to be more sedate and listen to my body as it ages, so I do yoga and pilates and I tend to walk more than run now. But I still love going to bootcamp and I do something called swimsanity that’s definitely nothing like aquarobics!
Balancing work with a social life is easier nowadays as I am happier having a glass of wine and playing mahjong at a neighbour’s house, rather than facing the expressway traffic into town on a Friday night. I am grateful that I have been able to reduce work to focus on my family in the last few years, as I know many women do not have this privilege. And luckily, I have little interest in shopping, because if I did, this would have been much harder to cope with!
My main focus in the past 5 years has been supporting my daughter, who had to drop out of school due to severe school-based anxiety. This has been an incredible learning journey for our whole family and has changed, and shaped, my views on education. I have had to do some deep diving into alternative education paths, challenge my own beliefs, and develop a pretty thick skin, in order to cope with the opinion of others, who don’t walk in my, or my daughter’s, shoes.
On reflection, this has made me a much more understanding, empathetic, and informed therapist. Spending less time at work has given me more time to do lots of research, mainly driven by my personal circumstances and I have developed an obsession with something called ‘neurodiversity’. I now drive my colleagues slightly crazy with my monologues about it but I want Kaleidoscope to be the foremost neurodiversity- affirming centre in the region.
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If I were to give a TED talk it would be about how important the role of a mother is for their child’s development. I have worked with many women who don’t realise how valuable time spent with them is for their children. I think this is so much more meaningful than enrolling them in multiple enrichment programs.
Many parents feel that they need to give their children every opportunity to be exposed to ‘real learning’ and that time spent simply playing is wasted. But we have forgotten the value of play in a child’s life. It is called the occupation of childhood for a reason. It teaches children so many essential life skills such as creativity, collaboration, problem solving, self-regulation, and many more. And if you have time, or make the time, to join your child in their play, allow them to share their ideas with you, and take genuine interest in what they are doing, you will be building an emotional bond, validating their self-worth, and making beautiful memories together.
Unfortunately, I did not inherit my mum’s sense of style, and even at my age, I struggle to know what suits me, and I find it hard to muster up the interest to change this, to be honest. So being dressed by someone else is a real treat. I like casual clothes and comfort. I loved when it became ‘in’ to spend all day in your active gear. I don’t own proper heels, or a suit, because I have never needed them for work. I like dresses, but I have a habit of buying things that end up hanging in my wardrobe unworn while I go back to old favourites. I once had a makeover session and the lady found plenty in my wardrobe for the before photo and almost nothing for the after!
*This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Photos c/o Augustine Yuen
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