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Mobility program improves independence for Longreach toddler with spina bifida

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Like other three-year-olds, Longreach toddler Ethan Minchin is starting to become more independent: he’s making friends, helping dad in the shed and loves to play in the mud.

But unlike other children his age, Ethan is also trying to master walking with his leg braces.

Ethan was born with spina bifida, the most commonly occurring birth defect resulting in permanent disability in Australia, for which there is currently no cure.

He’ll need lifelong assistance, but with the support of initiatives like SBH Queensland’s Mobility Program, he’ll be able to participate in all the activities he loves, including swimming, digging in the dirt, dressing up and even jumping on the trampoline.

Ethan was one of 22 children aged between three and 16 years old who participated in two independent mobility programs run by therapists earlier this year, made possible by a $6,400 grant from Slater and Gordon Lawyers’ Community Fund.

Ethan’s mother Donna Minchin said it was incredibly motivating to see her son learn and interact with other children using mobility aids.

“It can be difficult to find the energy and motivation to continually provide home therapy and coax a toddler to do physio and use his mobility aids,” Mrs Minchin said.

“But support from family, friends and the staff at SBHQ with programs like this help keep us motivated as parents and provide timely encouragement when we feel burnt out.

“Ethan is a happy, contented little fellow.  Has a lot of determination, doesn’t give up easily and programs like this help him develop the skills he needs to take on the world.

“Attitude is everything. We try to maintain positivity and focus on achieving and giving our best.  Everyone has their down days when it all seems too hard but you just start over the next day and keep on keeping on.”

The children participating in the program learned a range of skills, including floor mobility; skills using a wheelchair; transfers in and out of a wheelchair; and walking and upright mobility, as appropriate.

SBH Queensland Physiotherapist Elizabeth Steele said the programs also included activities to teach dressing and independence skills.

“For some of the little ones, this is their first time in a wheelchair and it’s amazing how encouraging it is for the children to race around in their wheelchairs with others their age,” Ms Steele said.

“These group programs are incredibly valuable in assisting children to learn how to make the most of life on wheels, to learn from therapists, and from other children, how to get the best out of their wheelchairs.

“There are no other programs like it in Queensland, and we are so grateful to Slater and Gordon for sponsoring SBHQ to run the programs for 2015.

Slater and Gordon Queensland General Manager Karen Simpson said it’s great to be able to make a difference to the lives of children with spina bifida.

“We’re thrilled to be assisting such a worthy cause by helping disabled children develop their skills and learn from each other in a supportive environment,” Ms Simpson said.

“SBH Queensland does great work and programs like these make a real difference to the lives of children with disabilities, as well as their families.”

SBH Queensland has been operating for 41 years and is well established as the main provider of services and information for children and adults with spina bifida and hydrocephalus throughout Queensland.

The organisation provides continued support from the moment a pregnant mother discovers her unborn child has spina bifida and then throughout the child’s entire lifetime.

Slater and Gordon’s Community Fund was sourced from the firm’s Staff Giving Program which provides employees of the firm with the opportunity to donate a portion of their wages to a fund.

The firm also contributes money towards the fund, with organisations able to apply for a grant ranging between $2,500 and a maximum of $10,000.