Therapist blog - Independent Living Skills

January 27 2022

Helena Poulton, one of our Occupational Therapists, shares her personal experiences of our latest Independent Living Skills project.

Hello, my name is Helena Poulton, and I am one of the Occupational Therapists here at Cerebral Palsy Cymru. I have a particular interest in thinking about how we deliver therapy that has relevance and meaning for children and young people in the 21st century, including how they become active and independent members of their families, friendship groups and, how they make decisions about their future. 

In this blog, I would like to share my experiences of our latest Independent Living Skills (ILS) project with you.  

What is the ILS project?

The Independent Living Skills (ILS) programme has been running for over 15 years at Cerebral Palsy Cymru, however, this is the first group that I have had the privilege to be a part of. It was also a particularly special year as it was the first time that we were able to fully utilise the specialist facilities in our new children’s centre, such as our new purpose-built therapy kitchen. 

ILS provides an intensive block of therapy to young people who have cerebral palsy over 5 days, for 3 hours each day. Alongside providing individual therapy sessions to focus on individual goals, we were able to facilitate group activity time on each day to focus on social skills and communication. 

This combination of individual and group time worked well and provided what these young people required to work towards reaching their goals, many of which were achieved or exceeded over the course of the project.  

We also held a group feedback session each day which gave the young people a chance to share with their peers and the therapists what they had enjoyed and learnt during the day’s session. We used an age-appropriate model for these feedback sessions, the ‘F words’ in childhood disability; Family, Fitness, Function, Friends, Future and Fun (https://www.cerebralpalsycymru.org/about-cerebral-palsy/icf) which was a great way for the young people to initiate conversation and share their experiences with each other in a structed but informal way 

Every ILS project has a different focus and feel to it, as the goals and focus of the group are generated by the needs and wishes of the group members selected to take part each year.  

This time, the focus of the group was to work on self-confidence and social skills, to help the young people feel more able to participate in daily life alongside their friends and families, as well as to become more independent.  

The goals that were set out by the young people included applying make-up and hair styling, following recipes to making hot drinks and snacks, increasing independence for eating and drinking as well as stamina and exercise tolerance to undertake some gardening and shopping! A very varied set of goals this time! 

How the ILS programme helps

The ILS Programme provides a unique opportunity for young people to mix outside of their localities, away from their parents and build new relationships with others who share similar barriers and frustrations in their daily lives.  

As we all move from childhood to adulthood, life changes and gets more complicated physically, emotionally, and socially for us all, and managing a disability within society can become more challenging.  

The feeling of difference and social acceptance is a difficult concept, and many young people struggle to share their experiences with others who share similar issues. The flexibility of the ILS format allows for breadth and depth of independence skills to be explored in a safe and practical way.  

Sharing experiences and skills with each other helps to build confidence and resilience as well as learning practical skills to help manage everyday tasks.  

Hints, tips and bright ideas that are shared formally and incidentally can make all the difference to navigating the bumpy path from children services to independence.  

Additional benefits that come from the ILS programme

It is always a pleasure to watch the confidence that grows daily within the group to help form relationships that can hopefully go beyond the boundaries of the project.  

With the advancement of technology and social media, many young people rely on their smart phones and augmentative communication methods to initiate conversation, make plans, chat and meet up for social activities as a pre-cursor to adult life, and it was great to see this beginning as a result of the ILS group. 

My personal highlight of the ILS project is seeing the young people’s confidence and skills develop and grow so that they can enjoy themselves, have fun and look forward to their futures!  

We particularly enjoyed making milkshakes all together – which were very delicious! You can watch and see how we got on during this session by clicking on the video below. This activity demonstrated that no matter what difficulties everyone has, we should all be afforded the ability to make a choice about what we like, how we like it and how we want that to be shared with others ( or not as the case may be!). 

 

I would like to conclude my blog by sharing with you all a short poem that I wrote after being inspired by the 2021 ILS project. During the sessions, we discussed the power of the word ‘Freedom’, and I personally think this sums up the wonderful time that we had together during ILS 2021. 

 

Opening the door  

Freedom to stay or go, 

Freedom to say yes or say no, 

Freedom to laugh and to cry 

Freedom to wash and to dry, 

Freedom to ask questions with no areas off limits 

Freedom to go shopping and enjoy social visits, 

Freedom to be inside or to go out 

Freedom to make coffee and laugh out loud, 

Freedom to get dirty whilst planting outside 

Freedom to make sure that make up is evenly applied, 

Freedom to make friendships and share with each other 

Freedom to encourage, grow and look forward to the future.  

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