Brave Lilian battles on

ABU DHABI - She has the same dreams and hopes that any 22-year-old girl in the capital does - but unlike all those other girls, Lilian Martins, a non-verbal, quadriplegic girl, until recently did not know what to do about them.

By Anupama V. Chand

Published: Tue 6 Jan 2004, 12:16 AM

Last updated: Thu 2 Apr 2015, 2:16 AM

Today, Lilian has shown a marked improvement in her co-ordination skills, according to her team of therapists at The Future Centre, who have been working with her since April 2002 - Dr. Mowafaq M. A. Mustafa, Director of The Future Centre; Gauri Vashisht, the Class Teacher; Sheryl Gonzales, the Physiotherapist; Aldona Adamczyk, the Speech Therapist; Dr. Sunita Misra, the Psychologist; and finally, the person they all agree has spent maximum time working with Lilian to enhance her newly-developed skill, Art Therapist Marie Domingvez.

Marie noted that Lilian has been following an intensive art therapy programme since October 2002, having had the opportunity to hold a pencil for the very first time at the onset of her programme, and since then has been able to express herself more explicitly.

"She has now found a way to express her emotions and feelings through a medium that gives her utter joy and satisfaction," Marie noted.

Lilian, she said had come a long way, and recently knew a moment of great pride, when she was chosen to participate in a painting competition organised by Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) on October 23rd, 2003 under the theme "Say yes to peace", judged by famous Lebanese artist Choukrallah Fattouh, in which she received the third price. Marie pointed out that it had taken Lilian just three sessions to get ready for the event.

"The toughest challenge was to make her comprehend the difference between "war" and "peace", which was done by presenting different symbols, situations and documents to her. Lilian was soon able to select the way she wanted to express her concept of peace, as well as what designs, colours and techniques to use," she said.

Lilian created a pencil and charcoal drawing, which won praise at the competition. She is today able to draw faces and other figurative designs, but what her art therapist finds most commendable is her ability to give expression to her characters. She added that Lilian can currently hold a felt-pen tightly in her hand, and rotate her fist in small movements, that help her write, she can actually write her name now.

"We are presently working with Lilian on a project, whereby she is creating some paintings, which she hopes to sell off at an auction by the end of the year, or maybe early next year, to raise money for herself, partly to buy all the expensive equipment that she is going to need shortly, including a new wheelchair, and other tools to be used, it is great that she is so self-contained in spirit," she said.

Dr. Sunita averred that although awareness of such disabilities was not great in the UAE, and much needed to be done in terms of bringing treatment and facilities for such people upto international standards, places like The Future Centre were trying at least to send a message to families of children born with such disabilities, that they were not alone in dealing with the problem, and that there was much that could be done to give the child an environment conducive to development of some sort.

"I do wish there is greater awareness, and that parents begin to talk more openly about their children's problems, then there might be so much we can do for them, we also need better marketing drives to promote these equipments for special needs people, like the magnetic touch screen and alphabet, the special computer and paraphernalia. If these could be subsidised for centres looking after special care students, there is so much potential for improvement," she said, adding that it was now actually possible to discuss issues like the human body with Lilian, counsel her about putting her head up and smiling etc.

The American girl of Brazilian origin, has spent most of her life at a special needs school in Florida, but has thus far remained passive, unable to move her hands, legs, or her neck, and confined to the wheelchair, with one companion to tend to her needs.

"She has always been a sociable girl, but after two years we are finally able to interact with her on a far greater level than ever before, and although she is always going to need help, for people like her, this holds out a hope where there so often never is any," said speech therapist Aldona, who uses pictures and symbols to get Lilian to communicate, where she only needs to look at a picture for the other person to understand what she wants to say.

Lilian is now able to hold a spoon and help herself drink, where earlier she had to be fed using a bottle, and her co-ordination and motor skills have vastly improved.

"Such disorders can occur because of pre-natal, peri-natal or post-natal problems, either eating wrong foods during pregnancy, or suffering a head injury during an induced or forced labour, or by developing diseases like Rubella during pregnancy, these particular cases are not genetic," said Sheryl, the Physiotherapist.

"This new found ability has done wonders for her self-esteem, and she is able to understand stories. She is also able to choose her own clothes and jewellery, and enjoys a compliment just like other girls her age," said Gauri Vashisht, Lilian's class teacher.

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