For youth with disabilities, a helping hand toward adulthood

In the youth lounge at the Lethbridge-Layton-Mackay Rehabilitation Centre’s Mackay site, Philippe Harrison (centre), a Special Care Counsellor with the TranXition program of our CIUSSS, speaks with program participants Marina Tsimiklis and David Dessureault.
In the youth lounge at the Lethbridge-Layton-Mackay Rehabilitation Centre’s Mackay site, Philippe Harrison (centre), a Special Care Counsellor with the TranXition program of our CIUSSS, speaks with program participants Marina Tsimiklis and David Dessureault.

Unique program by our CIUSSS takes teens and young adults into the community to learn life skills

David Dessureault used to get so nervous when he met new people that his heart would pound and his hands would shake. “I had a lot of anxiety,” he says.

Not anymore. “I’ve got a lot more confidence,” says the 24-year-old, who has juvenile arthritis and Crohn’s disease. “I feel a lot more under control.”

There have also been changes for Marina Tsimiklis, who used to be uneasy about meeting new people or trying novel experiences. Now she’s “less scared” to try new things. “It’s easier for me to get outside my comfort zone,” says the 22-year-old, who has a hearing impairment.

Participants in the TranXition program hike up Mount Royal in December, 2020.
Participants in the TranXition program hike up Mount Royal in December, 2020.

The two have one thing in common: They have both participated in a program run by CIUSSS West-Central Montreal called TranXition. It brings together young people with different physical disabilities into a single group and helps them learn the life skills they need to face the transition to adulthood.

The teens and young adults leave behind classrooms and therapy settings to learn lessons in the real world. They perform everyday tasks like buying a coffee at Tim Horton’s, doing a load of laundry, taking the metro and asking a stranger for directions. Many are doing so for the first time.

“Even though we all had different disabilities, we all had one thing in common: We had found a way to overcome them.”

Marina Tsimiklis, TranXition participant

“We offer them the freedom and opportunity to do things on their own—and take ownership of them,” says Julianne Noseworthy, Clinical Coordinator for the TranXition Program. “They develop the tools to gain independence and take the next step.”

As important as the support they get from the specialists of our CIUSSS is the help they get from one another. TranXition caters to young people aged 15 to 25 who have motor, language, visual and hearing disabilities; bringing them together in the same group makes the program unique in Quebec. They make connections with other young people whose impairments are different from their own—yet they discover that what they share is greater than what separates them.

Ms. Tsimiklis recalls an outing to a café with her group when participants opened up to one another about their impairments.

“Even though we all had different disabilities, we all had one thing in common: We had found a way to overcome them. That’s how a real bond formed,” she says.

The TranXition program was developed in 2018 after managers at our CIUSSS’s Lethbridge-Layton-Mackay Rehabilitation Centre identified a gap between services for pediatric clients and those for adults. More than 70 youth to date have benefitted from the program, which is funded by the Habilitas Foundation.

The teens and young adults, supported by a clinical team including an occupational therapist, guidance counsellor, social worker and two special care counsellors, are accompanied at a sensitive time in their lives. For teens and youth with disabilities, being at the threshold of adulthood can feel like standing on the edge of a cliff, the specialists explain. TranXition tries to make the sensation a little less scary and embraces the motto, “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.”

“We plant the seeds of independence and confidence that will give these young people the means to participate in society and in the community.”

Isabelle Cormier, TranXition Program Manager.

Participants undertake activities such as hiking up Mount Royal, organizing an outing outside Montreal, or planning and cooking a meal. Additionally, TranXition offers a program to develop pre-employment skills.

“We plant the seeds of independence and confidence that will give these young people the means to participate in society and in the community,” says Isabelle Cormier, TranXition’s Program Manager.  “We don’t do things for them—we accompany them from a distance and let them make their own mistakes.”

Mr. Dessureault, for example, got the opportunity to play piano for the others in his group, and it gave him enough confidence that he’s now planning a recital with friends this summer.

“It was stressful to perform, but I did it, and I feel proud,” Mr. Dessureault says. “We built trust within the group. It really helped me.”

Both he and Ms. Tsimiklis expressed gratitude for the support and dedication of TranXition staff. In the youth lounge at the Mackay site on Décarie Blvd., Mr. Dessureault and Ms. Tsimiklis sat on a comfortable couch, took stock of what they learned during their sessions, and praised the contribution of staff who helped them.

“They’re very patient and always let us speak our minds,” Ms. Tsimiklis said. “You can tell they’re really passionate about what they do—and that really makes a difference.”