Mission: it's possible

14th February 1997 at 00:00
Don't Give Up: Growing up with Hemiplegia Video Pounds 18, plus Pounds 1 pp or Pounds 10 plus Pounds 1 for members Hemi-help, 166 Boundaries Road London SW12 8HE

It's a sunny day. Children romp in a garden while their parents discuss life over a glass of wine. A dog bounds around. Inside, two young lads are having fun trying out a new gadget. A normal scene? Yes, although the children are all hemiplegic.

This inspiring video, funded and distributed by a burgeoning parent network with the prime aim of encouraging children with hemiplegia, aims to inform and alert teachers about the condition.

Cerebral hemiplegia is a form of cerebral palsy which affects about one child in a thousand. Its most obvious sign is a weakness, stiffness or lack of control on one side of the body but there can be other associated problems with co-ordination, lack of balance and fine motor control. Most children can manage in mainstream schools, especially when teachers show consideration and understanding, but keeping up with your age-mates can be a struggle.

At certain stages other children can be cruel, as the young girls in the film testify: "they used to say things and that". But a few good friends, supportive parents who talk admiringly of their offspring and a huge amount of determination help these young people with disabilities to gain the maximum enjoyment out of life.

When even tying your shoelaces is a serious problem at the age of 16, how much more pluck does it take to play the violin or cornet, to compete in display gymnastics or swim for charity? As Katherine, who is also blind, says, "I wonder if people found it so difficult to do their shoelaces, would they do it?" Hemi-help runs activity and sports days for its members, helping to open up the world of sport and art for children who may take a while to gain competence; it runs regular workshops for parents and professionals; it produces a newsletter and puts parents in touch with others who have encountered similar problems; and it operates a telephone hotline. Factsheets and leaflets on settling into school are available for parents and teachers. About 1,000 families and 200 professionals are now members.

Perhaps its most valuable work, however, is its role in illuminating the possibilities for children with disabilities.

Back in the house with the sun-lit garden, two young people are giggling in front of a computer screen. "I don't even think about using my other hand, do you?" asks Ione. Alastair and Malcolm have succeeded in cutting up cheese and tomatoes on the one-handed chopping board. Alastair says, "I've got a message for you people out there. Don't give up. If you want to do something, you can do it."

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