Gaining life skills, one putt at a time

Outpatient program helps youths with cerebral palsy, brain injuries

June 24, 2008|By Julie Scharper | Julie Scharper,Sun reporter

Eight-year-old Paris Clinton gripped the putter uncertainly and frowned at the small purple ball. Nearby, water splashed down a pile of rocks and white triangular flags flapped in a hot wind, but Paris was focused on one thing: getting the ball in the hole.

Under a sultry summer sun, a miniature golf course can test anyone's patience, but for the children who played at ParTee Golf in Perry Hall yesterday, sinking a putt marked a particular challenge. Some of them maneuvered walkers around the bridges and fountains of the course; others rolled along the greens in motorized wheelchairs. Some of the children, who are taking part in a program at the Kennedy Krieger Institute, were born with cerebral palsy, and others had suffered head injuries in accidents.

"You can do a lot in the facility, but it's important for them to apply the skills in the outside world," said occupational therapist Megan Tomarchio, as she helped a child line up a shot. "We want them to be as involved as possible in their environment and learn that they can do whatever they want."

Amid the piles of gray rocks, burbling fountains and patches of green AstroTurf at the small course on Joppa Road, the eight young people from the Specialized Transition Program were learning some big lessons about life: how to be persistent, how to deal with the stares or whispers that come with being different and how to whack that little ball through the hole in the rocks.

At one green, Kevon Carter, 8, who was hit by an SUV about a year ago, uncertainly hoisted himself from his wheelchair with the help of a nurse and a therapist. Supported by the adults, he held the putter with two hands and pushed the ball into the cup. Then, exhausted, he sat down again.

Kevon, who suffered brain and spinal cord injuries in the accident, was hospitalized and received in-patient care at Kennedy Krieger until he was released to the outpatient transition program in April. His respirator, sounding like distant ocean waves, could be heard over the hubbub of the putt-putt course.

"If they come to us, they're not going to be totally better," said Joan Carney, the outpatient program's director. "But our goal is to get them back into their community all day, every day."

The program, which marks its 13th anniversary next month, is designed for young people ages 2 to 20 who have developmental disabilities or who have suffered injuries to the brain or spinal cord. Children work with physical, occupational and speech therapists as well as teachers and psychologists.

Outings such as yesterday's trip help the children use their skills in the real world and build confidence, Carney said.

"Some of the kids are kind of afraid to attempt to do all the things they used to," she said.

For 17-year-old Corey Ragan, who suffered a head injury after being thrown from a car in an accident in March, the trip to the golf course was an opportunity to work on improving his hand-eye coordination.

The basketball enthusiast walked along a low wall to improve his balance with the help of therapist Katarzyna Hill.

Meanwhile, Paris, her hair a jaunty jumble of braids and white barrettes, lifted herself from the seat of her walker and took a few uncertain steps toward the ball. The 8-year-old was born with cerebral palsy and has some problems moving around, but her disability has not affected her spirits.

With the help of Tomarchio, Paris used one hand to prop herself up on her walker, which is decorated with stickers of the cast of High School Musical, and used the other to hold the putter.

She hit the ball a few feet closer to the hole, then spent several minutes maneuvering her walker to a spot near the ball. Then she swung again.

After six shots, each one preceded by several minutes of moving the walker, the ball spun into the hole in the green.

Tomarchio yelled "Score!" and Paris grinned.

Paris, who hopes to be a hair stylist when she grows up, will start third grade at Logan Elementary School in Dundalk in the fall. On the phone yesterday afternoon, her father said that she attends the Kennedy Krieger program as a sort of summer camp to build on the skills that she learns in physical and occupational therapy during the school year.

"A lot of times, kids in her situation don't get to do things that other kids do, and this gives them a chance to do that," Percy Clinton Jr. said.

Paris "is constantly surprising me with the things that she does."

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