Not even her family knew Komal Singh’s classmates in middle school picked on her because she uses a walker. That walker is the only sign that she has cerebral palsy, but it was enough to bring out the worst in those students. Komal didn’t tell anyone because the experience made her shy and reticent.
Yet today, this self-confident 19 year-old Brampton teenager is certain of her ability to command her future, thanks to ErinoakKids’ Independent Living Program.
“Middle school wasn’t fun,” she recalls. “But I felt like I was part of something when I was at ErinoakKids. I didn’t feel excluded.”
Physiotherapist Jillian Ferguson urged Komal to join the Independent Living Program (ILP) in 2014. Launched in 2001, the ILP helps young people make the transition from children’s treatment centre care into adulthood. For 11 days and 10 nights participants live in a barrier-free apartment in a university residence, and learn the skills of independence – banking, using public transit, cooking and more.
“When youth are at home moms and dads make choices,” says ErinoakKids Transition Consultant Jon Greenaway. “In the Independent Living Program, the young people in the program make their own choices. If they stay up late, if they don’t have enough money for the day, if they burn their dinner, if they get off the bus at the wrong stop – they must solve these problems without parental assistance. It’s experiential learning that gives youth a chance to make mistakes in a safe environment.”
In the ILP, Komal’s fear of being away from home gave way to enjoyment.
“Going out and seeing the world was fun and interesting,” she says. “It was something I thought I couldn’t do.”
On ‘goal day’ she toured the McMaster University campus, where her plans to apply to its Commerce Program solidified. The ILP also gave her the confidence to want to live in residence.
“The Independent Living Program was a very big turning point,” she says. “It gave me a chance to gain a sense of independence and confidence in making my own decisions.”
Today, Komal has completed her first year at McMaster University. She plans to earn her bachelor’s degree and become an accountant.
The Independent Living Program helped her find the adult within her, and not solely through her therapists.
“My roommate Emma taught me that the whole world isn’t like what I experienced in middle school”, she says. “I’ve come to realize that I’m not really any different than anyone else and can achieve anything.”