Visit to Marianopolis College

by Helene Louise  

Today I was very grateful to have the opportunity to make a presentation to a group of students at Marianopolis College, one of Quebec’s top pre-university colleges here in Montreal. In comparison to my presentation at McGill’s School of Physical and Occupational Therapy earlier this year, the group of students today was much younger and much more diverse in the sense that they have not yet chosen an area of specialization. I wondered what I might talk about given that focusing on the challenges of navigating the rehabilitation network in this case was unlikely to be of any interest or relevance to them.

In the end, I decided to focus on the importance of staying open to the possibility that something good might happen even when faced with well-informed expert opinions to the contrary and a mountain of seemingly insurmountable challenges. I talked about how when my daughter was first diagnosed, I was also told that she would likely never walk and that there was nothing I could do about it. But, that by working with her and encouraging her just the same, she eventually did learn to walk, to the point that now, she is free to imagine her life full of activities as it might otherwise have been, with minor adaptations as required.

At the end of the presentation, a student came up to me and said that the story of my daughter and me as I had just told it, was the story of her and her mother. And, just like me, when she was a baby, her mother had been told that she would likely never walk. But, just like me, her mother had worked with her and encouraged her just the same and there she was, so many years later, having just walked across the classroom to come and talk to me. The similarities in our experiences were incredible, right down to the fact that her mother had spent an entire summer helping her learn to ride a bike, just as I have done with my daughter, to the point that now, she too is free to imagine her life full of activities as it might have been otherwise, with minor adaptations as required.

I didn’t have any particular expectations when I set out to write about my experience in the context of this project. I only hoped that it might be helpful to someone in some small way, in a way that I wish I could have been helped when I needed it the most. But as it turns out, this project continues to be helpful to me too in so many surprising ways. The warm response from the students today who have their entire university and working lives ahead of them and very little in common with what I have lived, and at the same time, the immediate understanding and compassion I felt with the student who approached me to say her story so closely resembled mine, remind me that there is always much to be learned and much to be appreciated, even when you’re not expecting it. 

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