Family Magazine

Will Isobel Ever Use the Stairs? Just You Wait

By Mmostynthomas @MostynThomasJou

Will Isobel ever use the stairs? Just you wait

"I don't think she'll ever use the stairs," a visiting therapist blurted out last week. This was not an assessment. She was discussing our living space and capacity with me during a floor-sitter fitting for Isobel when she made her comment.
Naturally it put me in a black mood, and I sought empathy from Facebook friends. Not only was it inappropriate - the therapist hadn't even seen Isobel near the stairs - but it was also inconsiderate. Hadn't our little girl worked on her abs, thighs and arms at PACE over the past term at least? Had she not built up strength in those areas, so that she could pull herself up to supported standing from sitting, and  supported sitting from a supine position?
Sitting Isobel on my hip before taking to the stairs myself, I have noticed a new, satisfying, firmness to both her posture and grip. Instead of slumping forward like she used to - unless, of course, she's tired and ready for bed, or in need of solace in Mummy's bosom - she holds onto my shoulder and chest with clear assurance.

Will Isobel ever use the stairs? Just you wait

Many of PACE's staff - I must emphasize - are trained therapists too. The targeted areas of development they work on with Isobel are tailored to her individual specifications, enabling them to identify and build on potential capabilities. Progress is monitored regularly with photos, videos and written session records, adapting their exercises as they go along.
A lot of paperwork though this might generate, as evidence it really counts - both in relation to Isobel's SEN statement, PACE's records and our own fundraising work.
Most of the time, I find that with this approach, PACE do make incredible advances, even though sometimes the exercises seem rather daunting in their repetition. With so much work on not just her muscles - but also her awareness of them and what they're for -I am convinced that eventually, Isobel is going to try applying them elsewhere.
The past few weeks Isobel has been learning how to lean on one arm while sitting on a giant inflatable peanut and reaching for her favorite beach ball. This is not just about gaining vital balancing skills or building strength down the sides. In that one action, there's a lot for her to think about: pressing one palm down flat, distributing her legs and the arm she leans on so to weight-bear more efficiently, fine-tuning her aim, opening the reaching hand...
Intriguingly, it has also encouraged her to use her right arm much more spontaneously - and to work harder on her right-hand reach if she doesn't get it right first time. Sometimes - to our astonishment - she will even do it without instruction: clear evidence of both a diligence and an eagerness to try. Back home, that right arm is being used almost as much as her left. A brilliant achievement, don't you think?
Will Isobel ever use the stairs? Just you wait

Another exercise is getting Isobel to lift her legs, one by one, to kick the beach ball from a supine position with her shoes and socks off. On Monday, Szilvia, Isobel's facilitator, did a variation of this by getting me or the communication support worker (CSW) to jump each time she did this. It worked: each time the right leg, which like her right arm is weaker than her left, got higher and higher in kicking the ball - until finally, she did it, albeit with just a tiny flick of the big toe.
For homework, I'm to get Isobel to stamp on a biscuit tin lid with her shoes on, again while supine. That this will be hard work only underlines its value: potentially, both this and the beach ball kicks could lead to the future challenge of her taking her first, independent, steps.
She may no longer be following the standard infant developmental timeline, but the fact remains that Isobel is only two-and-a-half - half the threshold age at which some children with her disability begin to walk. "What the f*** does that therapist know," texted an irate friend, "Laurentia Tan learnt to walk at five and today she's only a b***** Paralympian."
Quite right too. Slow and arduous though it may be, Isobel's journey is still only beginning - and right now, I can already picture her turning her attention to the stairs.
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