Janelle has reason to smile

Nine-year-old Janelle loves Holland Bloorview’s pool, especially its inviting warm water. But it does come with a down side.

For a little while her dad, Jason, was convinced the warm water spoiled her when she jumped into a chilly lake. But she’s gotten over that now.

Janelle, who has cerebral palsy, is pretty tough. “She’s got grit, persistence, and a lot of spirit,” said Jason who added, “She’s also super smiley and funny.”

The Grade 4 student who loves art has been coming to Holland Bloorview for the past seven years. Along the way she’s taken advantage of a myriad of the hospital’s services and programs. For treatment, she’s benefitted from physiotherapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy.

“The staff are great, they’re fantastic,” said Jason, noting he was particularly grateful for all of helpful suggestions and useful strategies for continuing therapy at home. “The therapists really go the extra mile for the kids.”

Recreationally, in addition to learning to swim here, Janelle has played soccer, and has taken part in different hospital-run camps, like the Spiral Garden summer camp, which she loved. (She especially enjoyed being part of a summer camp that welcomed kids of all abilities.)

Parental support

Amid these activities Jason has met other parents of kids with disabilities, which has helped he and his family feel connected and part of a community.

“Every activity where you can meet parents with kids with disabilities always seems to help,” said Jason. “You see people going through what you’re going through and now you have a peer group you can talk to.”

Outside the hospital, the activities don’t stop. Thanks to Holland Bloorview’s therapy, Janelle is physically active across four seasons.

In the summer, she straps on her helmet and jumps on her bike. “We like to bike around the neighbourhood,” said Janelle. “I’ve biked at my grandparent’s cottage too,” she added proudly.

Janelle has also recently taken up downhill skiing through a group called Track 3 Ski ‒ a volunteer-run, non-profit group that teaches children and youth of all abilities how to ski.

“Now when we walk through Holland Bloorview, we often meet someone from Track 3,” said Jason.

A new mindset

With such promising improvements in her physical abilities, there’s now an added focus on her social and intellectual development. Jason knows that behind that beautiful smile is an equally beautiful personality. He sees it every day and now he would love for Janelle to be a little more confident in showing it to others.

Last fall, she took a big step forward as she confidently took to the runway for the All Abilities Fashion Show, joining 19 other kids and youth with disabilities where diversity, positivity and resilience were on full display.

She also took part in Kids Talk Peer Support Group – a program where kids with cerebral palsy meet once a week for eight weeks to share their experiences, celebrate their strengths and work on increasing their self-esteem.  

They talked about teasing and bullying and helped each other find solutions to situations they faced. Janelle and all of the other participants also created art work that reflected positive messages about disability.

And later this year, Janelle will join a hospital-run writing club, where she and other kids will express themselves through individual and group creative writing exercises.

With so much going on, it’s no surprise that Janelle is smiling so much. And Jason couldn’t be happier with his daughter’s progress and is continually amazed at what she is able to accomplish.   

“When you’re a parent of a child with a disability, the milestones are that much more intense,” he said. “You get so much more enthusiastic."