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Friday 22 April 2011

Being brave

"Helping the Easter Bunny"

Several years ago my colleague said to me: “My, you are brave”

When I asked her what she meant she explained that it was because I had left the child that I was working with standing up at the wall-bars while I went off to fetch something that we needed. I was talking to the child all the time, reminding her that she was looking after herself until I got back to her, something that I had learnt from her Mum when we had worked together in the mother-and-child group. At that time she was learning to sit at a plinth, holding on to two rings. I told my colleague that it was not I who was being brave now, or the mother a few years before, it was this little girl.

This Littlie, with athetoid cerebral palsy, now quite a biggie at eight years old next week, stands up from the floor when I am not even looking or expecting her to do so. She then turns herself around, stands between two sets of wall-bars and waits for the action!

There is just enough space between these bars for me to squeeze into and if I am not standing there Littlie uses the space for a multitude of purposes.

She uses this safe space to stand up in when she wants to do many things: play football-skittles, to cook with a table pushed up to her, to play hoop-la, to put on her shoes, as a starting point to practice stepping or just to observe the world. When the helicopter landed on our field last week she struck a similar pose in the fork of a tree trunk!

I had not realized that the wall-bar-space was the facilitation for learning to lean on a tree to watch a helicopter take off, but I know now.

Anyone for tennis?

Yesterday this little girl decided that she would like to play tennis while standing in what has become her special space.

Holding on to the lightweight tennis-racket means using two hands and this then left no hands to hold on to the bars. Now this Littlie can stand for up to a whole half-minute on her own, standing free in the middle of a room, and she can stand in her space between the wall-bars for a long time if she is not using her hands. But to play tennis she has to have a bit of a safety-net, just as she does when she stands there to cook (the table). What kind of safety-net, could we use to play tennis? A stool or a table would get in the way. I could not be the safety-net as she soon realized, because she needed someone to throw the balls to her.

My little client was just about a second ahead of me in solving this problem. The solution, she said, was that I would have to tie a rope in front of her between the two sets of wall-bars. This would prevent her falling forwards, something that in the end she did not do because she had a safety-net!

With the rope tied in place and the tennis racket tight in two hands the game began. I was the feeder of a stream of soft tennis-ball that she sent flying all over the room. Sometimes she hit with such a force that I told her that her brother and father, who are both avid players, had better watch out, there is competition about! This raised a smile!

Fresh and fit for fun and games and learning, and cool with it

It is the middle of the school holiday but this littlie took up the offer of coming as usual to her afternoon group. She was alone, which she says she enjoys because she learns so much so quickly. She was also really fit this week, with no early start like on school days and no home work either.

She is right. She really does learn a lot when she comes in the holidays on her own. And she did come on her own, cycling right into the room yesterday, looking cool in pink sunglasses, shouting: “Hi I am here!” I still cannot quite believe it, that I have a child of seven, going on eight next week, attending the centre who arrives all on her own.

Taking over the lead

Today, after holding the tennis racket in both hands became a bit too much like hard work, she freed the ropes and told me that if I tie her up (this was her own solution to the problem, remember, not mine) then she was going to tie me up too. And this is just what she proceeded to do.

Practicing knots like the girl-guides do

Reef knots and two round turns and two half hitches!

Proper knots were tied around both my arms and my feet and the ropes were then tied on to the wall-bars! Then I was given three tasks to complete before she would let me go. I had to move a ball with my toes and try to knock the skittles over. I managed it after about ten attempts. Littlie had to do a lot of retrieving of balls and she managed to stand the skittles up, with her shaky body doing its utmost to prevent her from succeeding. I then had to throw a ball against the tennis racket that she had tied to the wall-bars, with a little bit of help from me despite the ropes and knots, so that the balls ricocheted into a basket. This took about fifteen attempts as it was extremely difficult to do with my arms tied to the wall. I got the last ball in the target! By the time that was finished with this task there were brightly coloured balls all over the room, it looked as if the Easter Rabbit had been there hiding his eggs.

Important jobs before Easter

Finally I had to do a puzzle, moving a shape in a track using my feet. When this was completed I was freed. With the knots all untied we were able to get on with some important work. First to try out the newly adjusted old, just about worn-out and getting too small rolator, so it can be used at home during the holidays. Then we had to test drive the bike that we have on trial, in order to discover which cycle will be more suitable for the next size up, one with three wheels or a two wheeler with stabilizers. No need to have three guesses as to which one this big girl has set her mind on.

And finally off to the swing

Yesterday this little girl had discovered that she can use the swing that has no back rest and that she can swing herself on it. She realized that she could walk backwards while sitting on the swing and make herself take-off.

After this discovery we learnt how to step backwards, stretching her legs one at a time. She learnt to stand still for a second to balance and then let go, so that she could go whizzing through the air. She can do the leg movements to keep the swinging movement going. This she learnt while still in the Kindergarten, using a swing with back rest and straps like the one that she has at home. Now she holds on tight to the ropes and swings to her heart’s content, with the wind on her back and on her front and in her hair!

I had not realized yesterday that this was such a special treat and achievement and thrill for this child. She did it as if it was everyday occurrence. She walked over to the swing with the rolator that she had borrowed (that is another story) and asked for my help. The swing is in the Kindergarten playground that is usually closed by the time Littlie is outside. It is holiday, as I said, and she was here earlier so could enjoy the garden and its Ikarus swing with wings.

Today she told me that the only thing that she had told her Mum about our work together was the swing and she wanted to try it again today. The increasing number of steps that she is taking on her own were not the hit yesterday, it was the swing. It is as if this little girl just takes it for granted that one day she will walk on her own, but she is not so sure that she will play all the games that her brother and friends play. So she is determined to give them all a go while she has me there to help her. And what better opportunity is there than in the holidays when the Kindergarten is open and the swing there for the use of.

I have sent a picture of said swing home with little girl, with the gorgeous spring weather and a birthday coming up it may be just the job for a present from someone. The swing it is made of cloth and padded a bit so does not slip from beneath her like a plastic one would, instead it moulds itself around her body as she grasps it tightly to her by the ropes. It is just perfect for this wobbly little girl who wants to give everything a go.


The rolator and the eggs

First the story of the eggs

Last week we were really busy. It was the last days of school before the Easter Break and some children were to go off on holiday with their families for two weeks. We realized that we must help the Easter Rabbit to prepare for Easter, otherwise we would not be ready in time.

The last thirty minutes is usually crafty time but we changed it to after dinner so that paint was dry to take home. We were soon very busy painting salt-dough eggs and chickens that we were hoping to sell, with the Easter Bunny’s help. We wanted to raise money for one of the Association’s horses that has recently had an operation on a tumour. He has a huge hospital bill to pay. Our children usually ride this horse and it was their idea to help him out with a donation. We know now that we got at least sixty Euros for our craftwork perhaps more.


As they were busy painting and threading chicks and eggs on to ribbons our friend Évi was at the other end of the table blowing real eggs.

Now this was really much more exciting than painting salt-dough chicks and all children joined together in a chorus to say “I want to do that” , but loudest of all was our little athetoid girl.

So do it they did. What could Évi and I do as we saw them all throw down their paint-brushes and wait. We solved a few problems in record time and the children set to it. There was only one broken egg from a dozen and that was one of Évi's!

It was quite a challenge working out how make holes in eggs without breaking them, to blow eggs without breaking them and then to get the already limited amount of puff all going into the hole. But we are a great team and what Évi and I do not solve the children do.

The children with diplegia held the eggs themselves and were able to rub them on sand-paper to make the hole. They were also able to blow in the hole, but even for them it was strenuous and they too took to the method that we had devised for the athetoid girl. I held her egg and she puffed down a straw with all her might that I held in place in the hole. It worked. By the fifth egg she managed to get the yolk out too. And afterwards she realized that she could now blow bubbles in her drink!


With all the eggs empty ready to rinse out and dry before painting there was a bowl full of white and yolks in front of them. They asked what would happen to it and Évi and I looked at each other wondering who was going to bake cakes all evening or make piles of pancakes. The children quickly decided that they should make scrambled eggs and then eat it. Évi and I looked at each other as if to say that puts all our plans out of the window.

The standing programme now got transferred to the kitchen scrambling eggs and the walking programme to the table, setting it for our snack. One of the children said that this was the best scrambled egg ever, better than his Mum’s even, because he had made it himself. I tried it and he was right it was delicious.

At the end of the day I asked the children what had happened in the last few days to make them all so good. Were there teachers sprinkling them with magic dust? Was it the spring weather and the birdsong that was making them grow and achieve such tremendous things, like walking alone for a few steps more each day or having enough puff to blow an egg?

Another year older

Most of them did not know the reasons but our little girl told me it was because it would soon be her birthday.

In a way she is right because she is looking forward to it so much, her soul is happy. She is really looking forward having her friends with her at a party on a farm where she can climb over the bales of hay, beside them without any fear of hurting herself.

She is also right because she has grown. A year has passed and she now realizes that what I always tell her is true. That is that she will find everything a lot easier when she is bigger. She can reach handles and step higher and grasp better with bigger hands. She will get stronger and her body will learn to do what she wants. And it is just so and she finds it all great and wants to try more new and exciting activities as the world of bigger people opens up to her. Just like in the story of the swing.

Now the story of the rolator

This little girl’s rolator really is a bit small and is ready to be replaced with the next size up. The man who fixes all of this for us said he would come over to sort it out before the holidays and the birthday. On the day before he came the child was out in the garden using it when I saw her approach another child in the Kindergarten group who has a bigger rolator and asked whether she could borrow his. He was sitting at a table at the time, eating a snack. He gave his permission, without really realizing what he had done, and off she went, travelling much faster than before, as the wheels were set differently.

Now Évi and I had not realized that this was why the little girl had wanted to swap, but she had used this rolator before and she knew! The boy who gave it to her was none too pleased. He wanted to go to the sandpit and he realized that when using the rolator that he was left with he had to walk on his own two feet, and not glide over there on his arms after giving one big push as he had been able to do before.

Our man-who-sorts-it-all did a really good job for us today. He fiddled with a couple of screws and made one rolator go faster and the other slower. Both children are walking tall now using their own rolators again. One of them is not too happy about the change because it takes him a bit longer to get from A to B but he will soon get used to it and he will get stronger too. He may also stay in one place long enough to talk to the other children and get invited to hop on to the back of a bike.


Haba Ikarus swing-

Haba airplane-swing -

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