Kirsty tells us about her experience at last week’s Teen Academy.
I can remember when Teen Academy was in its early days, before it was even called Teen Academy. Three years ago I attended Bobath Scotland’s “Girl’s Group” with two other girls who also had mild Cerebral Palsy. Being a shy fourteen year old who would always ask for help (even when I didn’t necessarily need it) the group built up my confidence and helped to make me the independent person that I am today. I remember particularly enjoying the week as everyday there was either a visitor, i.e. Gary Spence from Capital FM, or a group activity, like walking to the café for a drink or playing a game. Even though these activities were incredibly fun, they also built up my communication skills and independence. The therapists showed me that, as great as it may seem to be able to rely on other people for everything, it is not necessary to do so as an adult.
Three years on, it feels strange to be on the other side. My week observing and helping at Teen Academy has, I have to admit, been one of the best weeks of my life. I have loved chatting to the teens, of all abilities, about their lives, and it has shown me that, no matter our level of CP, our ability to talk or walk or how many crutches we own, everyone is battling to be the best, strongest, most clever human being that we can be. Being around people with the same condition as me has made me feel like I’m part of one big family, and that my CP is nothing to be ashamed of!
One of the things I absolutely adore about Bobath Scotland is the atmosphere. The centre feels incredibly homely and above all, exudes from it such an immense amount of positive energy. Whenever I used to come here for therapy, I would enjoy every moment of it – as, with the creativeness of the therapists, it never felt as if I was solely doing physio – it was fun therapy. And that’s exactly what this year’s Teen Academy set out to do.
As I entered the kitchen on Monday morning for the first time in three years, I was greeted with the sight of the younger teens working hard, paired up with their own personal therapist for the week. I was directed to the back room, where I met the charming Jennifer, who had begun working on her goal of being able to take her jumper off by herself. The teens have a set of goals which they aim to achieve by the end of the week, and use a points system to score themselves on how well they think they perform these tasks. Jennifer scored herself a 3/10 for removing her jumper, but could manage this by the end of the first hour. During the second hour, the group worked together to make ice cream and soup. Everyone had a task to do, from chopping leaks to switching on mixers, and it was great to see the teens, who had only just met that morning, getting along and communicating well with each other.
After lunch, I made my way down to the kitchen once more, only this time to be confronted with the older teens sitting in a circle. I must admit that this was daunting, as these were people of my own age, it was also pretty overwhelming to be in the same room as so many other teens that understand the struggles I go through daily. I introduced myself, timidly, and then began the group’s game of Boccia, which I was lucky enough to take part in. for those who don’t know, Boccia is a Paralympic sport, played by – mainly – wheelchair users. It’s a bit like bowls , in that, the objective is to get all your team’s balls as close to the white ball (or “jack”) as possible. There were two teams; the Glasgow Gladiators (the team I was on) and the Allstarz. After six rounds (or “legs” the Allstarz won 5-3. Afterwards, the group split to work on individual goals. I got chatting to Abigail, who wanted to be able to carry things in her right hand, including her TV remote, whilst walking. She told me that she was due in for surgery the next Monday, and that she saw Teen Academy as a good opportunity to strengthen her hand before surgery and learn some new exercises to try out post-op.
Now that I knew what was in store, I was eager to begin my second day at the Teen Academy. Even though I wasn’t receiving any of the physio, I enjoyed observing the way in which the therapists worked with the teens – never giving up on their goals, even when it may have seemed impossible. I was more confident on the Tuesday, and spent the first hour strolling in and out of rooms, talking to the teens and watching them working on their goals. Kyle wanted to make a cup of tea and toast, and of course I was on hand to make sure the toast tasted just right! During the second hour, the young teens were introduced to the static bikes, which was the beginning of their challenge for the week. They had to clock up as many miles as possible by the end of the week.
The afternoon group began with their individual goals; Elise and Eilidh worked on their cooking skills, Abigail continued to work on strengthening her arm and back, and Neil buttered some cinnamon bagels, which, fortunately I was there to inspect (They tasted very nice!). Afterwards, the group split; half using the exercise bikes, half playing tennis on the Wii. Everyone in the afternoon group was incredibly competitive, a contrast from the morning’s supportive atmosphere, this being proven by Neil cycling so fast on the static bike that one of the pedals came off!
By the Wednesday I had gotten to know the teens rather well. It was great to see their progress over the course of the week, and I had become more confident with helping the therapists, and chatting to the younger teenagers. Everyone began by working individually; from fastening buttons to eating Nutella, the kitchen was buzzing with productiveness. Another thing that I love about Teen Academy is that no goal is too little, or too big, whatever the abilities of the teens, the therapists work with them to ensure they get as much as they possibly can out of the week. Afterwards, SJ and Jennifer decided to have another go on the static bikes, whilst Kieran, Eilidh and Kyle had fun playing bowling on the Wii.
The afternoon brought with it the opportunity for me to speak to the group. Kirsty, who is a GP and also has Cerebral Palsy, came along to tell the teens about her journey into employment. She spoke about how she never ruled anything out just because of her disability; her guidance teacher at high school was against her pursuing a career in medicine, however she thought to herself “I’ll give it ago, and if it doesn’t work out, at least I’ll know I’ve tried it”. It was great to hear these words from someone similar to me who actually got into the job she wanted, and it has inspired me, and the other teens to fight for what we want in life, and to never give up. I then told the teens about why I chose to volunteer at Bobath and the opportunities it may bring me in the future. I wanted to show the older teens that, even though employment may seem like uncharted waters, there are steps you can take in order to make life after education less daunting.
Thursday morning was a bit different. As I strolled into the kitchen at my usual time, I was met by a wave of paparazzi, producers and parents. STV had come to visit. I was quickly propped onto a seat and told to smile for the camera as a huge cheque was handed over to us! This was the grant awarded to Bobath Scotland by the Scottish Children’s Charity so that Teen Academy could run smoothly this year and to its full potential. The chaos continued even after the cameras had gone as Gary Spence from Capital FM, accompanied by his roadies, invaded the kitchen with a rather large mixing table and two booming speakers. The music began, and each of the younger teens had their turn of switching between tracks and scratching something that looked, and sounded, a lot like a vinyl record. Everyone was up and dancing and the positive energy was through the roof!
In the afternoon, the older teens were visited by speakers from Scottish Disability Sport, who told the group about the variety of opportunities their group had to offer them; from volunteering to competing in tournaments/matches, the pair spoke about the variety of games and sports they held across Scotland and how the teens could get involved. After that, the group then played yet another game of Boccia (with a few more rules this time, just to make it even trickier) – the scores were now almost even, with the Gladiators just scraping a win with one extra point.
The final day of Teen Academy was by far the most heart-warming. After achieving their individual goals, the young teens then played a game of “Disco Bingo” and had a go at Boccia. The girls (Eilidh and Jennifer) won 6-2, proving that there is such a thing as Girl Power! Afterwards the parents came into the kitchen to watch the teens be presented with their certificates. This was an awards ceremony far superior to the Oscars or Brits, as being able to witness the proud expressions on the teen’s faces is something I won’t forget in a hurry! The parents all seemed extremely thrilled with their children’s progress and very interested on how to maintain this.
The afternoon was very similar. After she achieved her goal of being able to tie the belt on her very fashionable shirt, I spoke to Eilidh about how she was getting on at university. Eilidh is going into her second year of law at uni, and shares my love of literature. We got chatting about classic authors like Charlotte Bronte, and soon the rest of the group joined us to chat before playing one last game of Boccia, this time it was Therapists VS Teens. Unfortunately, after many, many “deciders” the therapists won 13-10. After our defeat, the teen’s parents came in to witness yet another awards ceremony, and this time my name was called. I was thanked for helping out over the week, but the phrase “my pleasure” has never reigned so true.
The week I spent at Bobath’s Teen Academy has been an incredible opportunity. I have loved seeing the teens progress and most importantly, enjoying themselves. It is such a wonderful experience to be surrounded by people my age that are in a similar situation to me, hence I feel this is the reason Teen Academy works so well. In my opinion, it makes the teens feel less alone, and more understood by their peers – that is the case for me, anyway, as all of my friends are able bodied, and although they are understanding of my condition, it was refreshing to be around teens who didn’t fret over me or be especially cautious around me, and treated me, dare I say, as an equal.
“I thought the week overall was a great success, like every other time I’ve been to Bobath I thought the approaches there achieved notable progress.” – Eilidh, 18.