Cerebral Palsy and the Road to Independence

Tim Harding, Vice Principal of Treloar College, Alton, Hampshire tells one student’s story of life with cerebral palsy and the fight to become more independent.

Nineteen year old Justin is about to leave full time education, having studied at Treloar School and then Treloar College for the last five years.

Justin has spastic quadriplegia, a type of cerebral palsy in which all four limbs are affected. Justin is in a wheelchair and requires help with various daily activities, such as bathing. During his time at Treloar’s, he has been receiving specialist residential care; however, through lots of hard work with his therapists, he is now able to move towards an independent life.

Justin’s key worker, Sue, meets with him at least once a week to discuss the short-term and long-term goals he can work towards. All these goals are focused on achieving independence.

Physiotherapy is a core area of treatment for cerebral palsy, and one of the main aims of Justin’s work with physiotherapist Dee has been to prevent or limit contractures and limb deformities that can occur with his form of cerebral palsy. It’s been a real team effort, and Dee believes that Justin is now able to carry out a great many movements independently. He can now feed himself, transfer himself out of his wheelchair and walk a short distance using a Kaye Walker.

Justin also works regularly with Maggie, an occupational therapist. In his first year at Treloar College, he learnt skills such as accessing and setting up a computer, producing his work independently, and managing his wheelchair on the road. In his second year, his abilities have been extended to include skills like withdrawing money from a cash point, booking local travel, going shopping and using domestic appliances. With other students he has learnt how to plan a weekly menu, do his own laundry and cook basic meals. All of these life skills have helped Justin to gain confidence and become more independent.

Justin has a slight stammer, which is not necessarily a result of cerebral palsy, and he has some difficulties maintaining pitch and volume in his voice. He worked regularly with his speech and language therapist, Caroline, during his first year at college. This enabled him to develop techniques to manage his speech difficulties independently. As there are some speech sounds he cannot hear, Justin has hearing aids. However, he has been given all the information he needs to make an informed decision about their use and he makes his own choices about when and where he is comfortable using them.

Last year, Justin undertook a seven month work experience placement at his local supermarket. He worked for five hours once a week on the customer services desk and at the checkout. Justin acknowledged that he wasn’t as fast as his colleagues and sometimes people had to ask him to repeat what he was saying. He took the feedback he received constructively, but he realised that this was not the role he wanted on a full time basis. When he was just seven years old he wrote his first play, and has ambitions to become a children’s writer.

Justin’s next challenge is making his London home suitable for his needs. He is nervous about leaving college, as he knows life in the wider world will be challenging and he will really miss all the friends he has made. When asked whether he felt he has benefited being at a school and college specifically for young people with physical disabilities, Justin was quite candid:

“Treloar’s helped me to grow up. It helped me to be an adult and more independent. Regarding my disability, CP, Treloar’s has helped me to be more positive and speech and language therapy has helped me to get rid of my stuttering.”

So what would Justin say to other young people with cerebral palsy? “Don’t be negative because you can do what you want to do, as long you have the mind and the determination to achieve it. Be positive and you will be a winner.”