November 19, 2018

Student overcomes physical limitations to take his first independent steps

​After years of determination, Lucas Blackwood, grade 3 student from Hilldale Public School, took his first independent steps using his walker as his peers and teachers cheered him on.​​


"This huge accomplishment, not only assisted Lucas' physical gain, but also helped to build his self-esteem and work ethic which are two things that will positively alter his life," says Nicole Missen, Blackwood's mother. "Even when it seemed like he would never take a step, his teaching assistants, staff at the school and peers never gave up on him.  Their patience and consistent efforts paid off."


Blackwood was born prematurely at 34 weeks. At nine-months-old, he was diagnosed with spastic quadriplegia cerebral palsy--the most severe type of spastic cerebral palsy--causing near immobility to his arms, legs and body. At 14 months, he was diagnosed with epilepsy. Soon after, he was further diagnosed with asthma and dysphagia which causes difficulty in swallowing. He is also non-verbal.​


Despite all of his physical limitations and medical hurdles, he refuses to let them stop him from being a happy and friendly individual who makes it his mission to motivate and inspire others every day. "We work with Lucas on his walker almost every day and it was literally his last time before we moved onto something else as he practically ran to us," says Tanya Gallant and Sierra Gardash, teaching assistants at Hilldale.


In March 2018, Blackwood was scheduled for a major surgery to reconstruct his left hip. When his classmates heard about his upcoming surgery, the entire school rallied support to participate in Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital's Capes for Kids fundraising campaign, and donned superhero capes in support of their classmate. The campaign helped raise funds for patient's rehabilitation in the hospital, including Blackwood.

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"Lucas' story is a strong example of what support for special needs education can do," says Greg Purmal, principal at Hilldale. "His story teaches us to never give up hope and together, we can achieve anything."

Blackwood's first steps with his walker did not come without its challenges. Since grade 2, Blackwood has utilized an eye gaze system to help him communicate by looking at symbols on the screen which then helps him to produce an audible message. As part of his daily routine, with the encouragement and support from his teaching assistants, he also uses his Rifton activity chair, adaptive bike and other assistive devices.


"His peers love him so much and are always making sure that he's included. They don't see his disability. They see his ability," says Gallant. "Until 8-years-old, he was never been able to walk, but his assistive devices help achieve this and it's his favourite thing to do. He can go to gym and run with his friends."

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