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News: New clinic helps youth with disabilities transition to adulthood

June 18, 2021 – Toronto – Canada’s leading children’s and adult rehabilitation hospitals have joined forces to run a one-of-a-kind clinic that helps youth with disabilities better navigate adulthood.

Bloorview Kids Rehab and Toronto Rehab have opened the LIFEspan clinic – a clinic designed to fill gaps in adult services that put youth with disabilities at risk of developing preventable, secondary health conditions when they graduate from children’s services.

“Traditionally they fell through the cracks at age 18,” says Helen Healy, Director of the Life Skills and Wellness Institute at Bloorview Kids Rehab.

The LIFEspan clinic – located at Toronto Rehab – offers a single point of access for youth to receive comprehensive services from a rehabilitation team that includes a nurse practitioner, a physiatrist, occupational, physical and speech therapists, and a social worker.

Due to medical advances, children born with disabilities are living longer, but the co-ordinated medical, therapy and life-skills services they get in the pediatric system are missing in adult services. The number of children with disabilities who will be entering adulthood in the next five years is considerable: At Bloorview Kids Rehab alone, more than 1,200 clients will be turning 18 in the next three years.

Dolly Menna-Dack, who grew up with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, hit this wall when she needed surgery and inpatient rehabilitation at age 18. “It’s really frightening not having anywhere to go,” Dolly says. “The adult system is very fragmented. It was a struggle to look for the specialized care I needed. Adult service providers were not prepared for me and I wasn’t prepared for their lack of understanding.”

Dolly – then an adult – ended up having her surgery and rehab in children’s facilities. Dolly was lucky. “Other youth go without the care they need, compromising their health and developing secondary conditions that lead to costly hospitalizations,” Healy says.

“The LIFEspan service recognizes that youth with childhood disabilities need specialized, ongoing care throughout life, and we are collaborating with family doctors in the community to build expertise in childhood-onset disabilities,” says Dr. Mark Bayley, LIFEspan physiatrist and Medical Director, Neuro Rehabilitation Program at Toronto Rehab.

Twenty year-old Crystal Chin was born with cerebral palsy, a neurological disorder, and uses a walker because of partial paralysis on one side of her body. Crystal has other health concerns, including chronic pain, which means she needs specialized care. Thanks to the LIFEspan clinic, she’s able to receive it.

“The medical and life skills support provided by the service has made me feel less intimidated by life,” Crystal says. It encourages me to participate in life as an adult.”

By increasing the quality of primary care and by ensuring that patients receive coordinated and comprehensive long-term care, the LIFEspan clinic’s innovative approach will improve the efficiency of the health care system.   

“By providing the right care at the right time, future savings from the LIFEspan service are estimated at $3.7 million annually five years into the program,” Dr. Bayley says.

The LIFEspan service began in December 2006 as a demonstration project for individuals with cerebral palsy and acquired brain injury. Plans are in the works to expand the service in the near future to youth with spina bifida, spinal cord injury, muscular dystrophies, and musculoskeletal disabilities.

Preparing children with disabilities for adulthood has become a recognized clinical and research field as a growing number of countries look for ways to address the challenges. Bloorview just hosted its fourth international conference on transitions in Toronto, drawing about 250 attendees from seven countries. Many were eager to adopt the LIFEspan model.

Bloorview Kids Rehab is Canada’s largest children’s rehabilitation hospital. For over a century, we’ve pioneered treatments, technologies, therapies and real-world programs that give children with disabilities the tools to participate fully in life. Visit www.bloorview.ca.

Toronto Rehabilitation Institute (Toronto Rehab) is at the forefront of one of the most important and emerging frontiers in health care today – rehabilitation science. Toronto Rehab is one of Canada's leading academic rehabilitation science centres providing adult rehabilitation services, complex continuing care, and long-term care. More information is available at: www.torontorehab.com

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For more information, please contact:


Louise Kinross, Communications Manager,
Bloorview Kids Rehab, 416-424-3866

Carolyn Lovas, Media Relations Specialist,
Toronto Rehab, 416-597-3422, extension 3837

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