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  Tuesday, November 22, 2005 New Brunswick Weather
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Life's richer for Lauren

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Seven-year-old Lauren Crompton listens to her mom, Susan Crompton, while they do a little homework at the Kiwanis House.
The Daily Gleaner

Lauren Crompton isn't an average seven year-old girl.

She loves to play with her friends, she has beautiful hair full of ringlets, her favourite movie of the moment is The Princess Diaries. But don't underestimate her. She has to struggle every day with the limitations that cerebral palsy places on her life.

Lauren works hard in school -- Grade 2 at Florenceville Elementary School -- she can communicate using her alpha talker or a simple system of pointing either to the right or the left, and she is a bit picky when it comes to films, choosing Richard Gere and Harrison Ford first.

But even with all the barriers she breaks down every day, Lauren gets frustrated when she can't be involved simply because of her disability.

One obstruction Lauren has recently beaten is being able to enjoy the simple wonder of a snowy afternoon in the schoolyard, thanks to the volunteers at the Fredericton chapter of the Tetra Society.

When Lauren's family couldn't find a sled outfitted for Lauren, they turned to the Tetra Society, a volunteer organization that pairs engineers with people who have special needs.

Susan Crompton, Lauren's mom, said their family learned about the Tetra Society of North America on a television program and then tracked down the local chapter.

"No one wants to be different," Susan Crompton said during a recent interview at Kiwanis House, an apartment-style building for families who stay in the area overnight while making use of the resources at the Stan Cassidy Centre for Rehabilitation.

Zipping around in a new walker at the house, Lauren was doing what seven-year-olds do best: exploring every nook and cranny. Now that the snow is gone, Lauren can look forward to using her motorized wheelchair to play games on her large lawn in Florenceville this summer.

"We want her to have as much recreational time outside as possible, at the same level as any child," Crompton said while watching her daughter.

Since insurance won't cover them, Crompton said, it is costly to have recreational devices modified for her daughter, but she doesn't want Lauren to have to spend all her time in a wheelchair.

In fact, they could have paid upwards of $400 to have the sled done through the normal channels, but through Tetra, the cost of the project was minimal. Now, Lauren can enjoy being pulled through the snow by her classmates, friends and her brother.

"There are so many aids you can't buy. They're just not available and so expensive to modify, there's just not the call for them," Crompton said. "We searched for four years just to find the right (size) sled."

When Frederic and Melanie Lalonde, two volunteers for Tetra, finished modifying Lauren's sled with a seat, it was ready for winter, except for a few upholstering details lovingly completed by Mom. Crompton said it does Lauren and Mom good to see the little girl get to experience winter with her friends.

"She looks outside and the kids are playing. She can't do those things. If there is some way for her to be involved, she has more independence and there's less I have to do -- it works all around."

Tetra is something into which more families could and should tap, said Crompton, praising the group's dedication, professionalism and innovation.

"It's so nice to have someone say, "Is there something that you need?'"

Bill Wallace, who is a therapist at the Stan Cassidy Rehabilitation Centre in Fredericton, said he directs people to Tetra who have particular needs that fall outside of the centre's mandate.

"The great thing about Tetra is that there are always niches where things don't exactly fit," Wallace said." Lauren's sled didn't fit but it fit nicely into the mandate for Tetra."

He said projects, that have funding, such as certain wheelchair adaptation, and projects that involve medical input, fall to the Cassidy centre. But some things, such as recreational tools and communicationdevices for adults, often aren't funded, aren't available commercially and are costprohibitive for families to have made or modified, he said.

This is where Tetra steps in.

"Independence is very, very helpful to the mind and spirit and to family cohesiveness," Wallace said. "Anything that helps clients participate and become more involved socially is always beneficial."

Often the cost of having things, such as Lauren's sled modified, is mostly the labour of the engineers. So having to pay only for materials through Tetra makes some ordinarily expensive modifications or devices less costly and more easily attainable, Wallace said.

Wallace, who is also a volunteer with Tetra, said there needs to be a push to make people aware of what is available to them.

"Often, people don't know there could be a solution. They look at what's available off the shelf and they stop there. This is another avenue they can pursue."

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