Don Highsted still stops to compose himself when he recalls the moment he learned that daughter Kelsey had cerebral palsy.
She was just 18 months old. Don and his wife Kim recognized that she was slower to develop motor skills than other babies, and the Vancouver Island couple had enrolled the toddler in a program providing physical therapy.
Her parents were both avid soccer players. And one day, Don asked Kelsey’s therapist if she would get strong enough to play soccer.
The reply came like a blow.
“Well, if you’ve got cerebral palsy, it’s not likely.”
Kelsey is 23 now. And while she doesn’t play soccer, she rides dressage on a striking chestnut horse and has just taken up cycling (on a three-wheeled bicycle). She’s an active volunteer and a Camosun College grad, and now works full-time at the Clements Centre Society in Duncan. She’s a young woman with plans.
Kelsey is an example of the way early intervention, family support and determination can change lives.
Cerebral palsy affects muscle movement and remains incurable. But early support including physiotherapy and speech therapy make a tremendous difference in the long-term independence and quality of life for children with the condition.
“I can’t even imagine myself if I hadn’t had the physical therapy,” Kelsey says now. She walks with a cane and casually mentions the number of falls she regularly takes. But she also loves being on her horse and spends as much time as she can in the outdoors.
The Clements Centre Society where Kelsey now works delivers a wide range of services to children and families, including the kind of early intervention that was so important to Kelsey in her own life.
“It’s actually inspiring to me because the clients are happy every day,” she says. “It’s great those services are here in the Cowichan Valley.”
Kelsey’s father is certainly a believer. The early intervention delivered by the Queen Alexandra Centre for Children’s Health in Victoria “was the foundation that allowed Kelsey to do so well,” he says.
The therapy helped Kelsey progress physically. The physical and occupational therapy was built into “a typical daycare experience,” helping ready her for school, Don Highsted recalls.
The centre was able to assess Kelsey’s strengths and challenges and prepare a report on her potential that helped ensure she had every opportunity and the right supports from the school district when she started classes.
“I do not believe Kelsey would be where she is now if she hadn’t had that entry card,” says her dad. He urges every parent to take steps to make sure they’re aware of the services that are available.
Jason Gordon, provincial advocate with the B.C. Association for Child Development and Intervention, couldn’t agree more that early intervention services are critical for children with disabilities and health challenges. But he sounds a warning about the level of support for such services.
The association’s 30 members are non-profit agencies that provide services to 15,000 children across the province, and all of them are facing financial challenges. Provincial government funding has been effectively frozen for child development services since 2009. And while other health-care providers are eligible for provincial funding support for capital projects, the child development centres are excluded from applying.
“Wait lists are growing,” Gordon says. “We know that early intervention makes such a huge difference, and it’s just wrong to deny children the help they need when they need it.”
Just ask Kelsey. She’s active, engaged and planning her next career steps, hoping to work on developing employment opportunities for other people who face barriers to typical jobs.
How you can help: Learn more about child development and early intervention in British Columbia at www.bcacdi.org, and visit www.clementscentre.org/ to learn about the Clements Centre Society. The B.C. Association for Child Development and Intervention represents 30 agencies that deliver services to 15,000 children and youth.