"Conducting Little Miracles"

Excerpt from Kingston Whig Standard April 22, 95 .. Staff Writer: Murray Hogbin

Some miracles are happening in Picton: The lives of five children with Cerebral Palsy are greatly improving. The children many of them unable to walk, talk or even sit unassisted, are attending the first five week Ability Camp session. They're being encouraged to literally take their first steps and do things their parents never thought possible.

The Conductors move about constantly working with one child and then another, encouraging, talking, singing and smiling to get them to exercise little used muscles. The games and exercise can be as simple and challenging - as rolling over or sitting on a chair and waving arms in time to the music from the tape deck. The program is remarkable, says Mardi Hildebrand, of Chatam, her three year old son Talon is standing on his own and starting to walk for the first time ever. "It's surpassed my wildest hopes" she says. "I'm ecstatic and we'll be back"

Sharon Leblanc has come all the way from Halifax to enroll her five year old daughter Alicia, in the program. The little girl has very little use of her muscles because a complicated birthing cut off oxygen to her brain. Since arriving in Picton, she has learned to walk a little, is under more control, and is improving her sense of balance, says her mother. This is a girl who could not sit comfortably without falling over. But now she is sitting unsupported on a wooden stool and is using her muscles. "Her independence is growing", Leblanc said last last week. "She wants to do everything. She wants to feed herself and clean the table and she's doing really well. All the women are overwhelmed at the progress" the children have made since March 27, Leblanc said.

Hildebrand concurs. Her son Talon is now standing and bearing his own weight, starting to take steps, and learning to use his tongue and close his mouth," which is really something," his mother says. He's even sitting down at a table without support.

These steps might not seem major for a normal child, but for Hildebrand, Talon's progress is like a small miracle. Yet sometimes, parents place too much emphasis on getting their kids walking, says Jozsef Kaska, one of the Hungarian trained Conductors. "We've seen a lot of success with all sorts of children" he says. "The problem is that parents and other people say, 'Is my child walking or not?'"

For Kaska success can mean getting a child toilet- trained or teaching him how to reach for a cup, hold on to it, and try to drink from it himself. "You try to find a way for them to play with a ball," he said, "to sit in a normal chair, or to be able to watch television while sitting on the floor and not in a wheelchair, or to be able to sit at a table when they go home and not to sit with straps on a special chair and to eat on their own, things you want from a normal child."