BEING ABLE to order a pint at a bar or take part in a disco is something most of us take for granted. But for severely disabled teenagers at a special school in Cardiff, reaching these goals has become part of their everyday lessons.
Like his fellow pupils at Craig-y-Parc school, 18-year-old Darren Snook is severely disabled. But now that he has reached the legal drinking age, the wheelchair-bound teenager with cerebral palsy longs to have a pint with his dad - standing up.
He is close to achieving his ambition thanks to MOVE, a programme designed to improve pupils' mobility and motivation.
Darren has been practising standing in a supporting frame and grasping a pint-sized cup of squash with his whole hand, rather than his fingertips, as part of the technique.
The school, which is run by disability organisation SCOPE, has become the first in Wales to become a Centre of Excellence for the life-enhancing programme. Seven other centres are based in Scotland and England.
The technique works by combining physiotherapy with everyday teaching and learning in the classroom.
Staff have reported some remarkable results, saying that wheelchair-bound pupils with head, arm, wrist and leg supports have been taught and motivated how to sit in an ordinary chair unaided.
Physiotherapy technician Danny Carter is the school's MOVE co-ordinator. He says the key to the programme is setting goals that really galvanise pupils, even if they seem unattainable.
Danny's colleague, physiotherapist Phil Jackson, says the other key aspect of MOVE is that pupils' training has been integrated with classroom learning - physiotherapy is no longer seen as a separate, additional activity.
"Before, pupils used to come for treatment sessions, then we would send them back to class.
"Now the staff are aware of the pupils' physical goals and they know the next step we're working on," says Mr Jackson.
Nine out of the school's 20 classroom staff are now trained in MOVE techniques, plus two of the school's residential staff.
Mr Carter says there was some initial reluctance from classroom teachers but this has been overcome. "I did quite a lot of running around in the first six months because staff weren't familiar with the concept. Now it has snowballed and I have a waiting list to go on training."
Emma Faulkner, also 18, really wants to practise standing so she can take part in the school disco. She hadn't stood for four years and didn't have control of her head, body, legs or arms.
After using the technique she can control her head and has about 70 per cent control of her arms while using a special standing frame.
"If she can do standing in the school disco, and if she counts that as dancing, that's made her life," says Mr Jackson.
"This is the Everest of achievements for her."
* For more information on the MOVE programme see www.move-europe.org.uk
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