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Center Serves Special Campers

Tommy Nash likes Harry Potter books, swimming and Scooby-Do. The 8 1/2-year-old boy also has cerebral palsy, but that doesn't stop his parents from seeing that he leads as full a life as possible.

Blond-haired, green-eyed Tommy was born 10 weeks premature and his lungs weren't fully developed enough to function on their own, so he was placed on oxygen. But he had to be on it for so long that he suffered brain damage, as a result.

He takes muscle relaxants and gets physical, speech and occupational therapy at school. The therapy will stop over the summer but, instead, he'll attend the Cerebral Palsy Ability Center in Arlington, for six weeks of "conductive education."

The teachers are called "conductors" and, explained Nash, "Instead of having to go to three, different specialists, a conductor has the knowledge of all three types of therapy, plus education, and knows how best to combine them to benefit the children."

The summer camp is designed around a program developed in Hungary. This year's session runs from June 28-Aug. 6, Monday-Friday. This will be Tommy's third time attending, and his mother said he and other children there achieve visible improvements in their body strength and abilities in a short period of time.

<b>DAMAGE TOMMY SUFFERED</b> following his birth was to the part of the brain controlling motor or muscle movements, adversely affecting Tommy's arms and legs and forcing him into a wheelchair. Although he can't speak, he communicates through body language and facial expressions. And he's a bright child who comprehends everything that's going on.

He just finished second grade at Deer Park Elementary, where he's immersed in regular classes for subjects such as art, music, P.E. and science, and placed in special-education classes for math, reading and writing. "He loves school," said his mother. "He seems to enjoy music the best."

"Before going to the camp, he could barely sit up for a minute, without help," she said. "But afterward, he was able to sit Indian-style for a minute, without support. He also learned to roll over from his back to his stomach, for the first time, and it was a huge milestone."

The camp focuses on children with cerebral palsy and other motor disorders. "It's intensive therapy, six hours a day, so we tend to see larger jumps in progress," said Carroll Olson, president of the Cerebral Palsy Ability Center board. "My daughter, 4 1/2, has cerebral palsy, and I've been involved with the center for 1 1/2 years."

There, said Olson, children receive lots of one-on-one attention, "and it's really neat to see the progress they make. The rest of the year, they get individual therapy but, in summer camp, they work in groups and root each other on."

<b>WHEN HER DAUGHTER</b> first went there, she said, she couldn't crawl or bear weight. Now, she sits up, stands with assistance and can use a walker. "You see big jumps in the kids' strength and coordination," said Olson. "The program emphasizes the same movements, over and over again, so the brain will learn new pathways so the body will coordinate these movements on its own."

"We're really fortunate that we have something like this in our area," said Nash. "A lot of people come from out of state — as far as Arizona — to attend the six-week session. We call it camp to disguise the fact that they're going through therapy. The kids are having so much fun that they don't realize they're stretching and strengthening their muscles."

She said children are also pushed hard to participate in all the activities, including speaking. Tommy used to be reticent about speaking but, after one summer at the camp, he became much more vocal and interactive with other children and adults. At this year's session, there'll be five conductors and about 24 children, ages 3-11.

"It's a wonderful program, and Tommy's looking forward to it," said Nash. "All the kids do. They can't wait to get there, each day. Last summer, one child named Jake started out on canes, and I was fortunate enough to see him take his first steps down the hall, without them. It was really something — I stood there in tears. His parents had been told he would never walk."