A TEENAGER from Oxford went on to become a leading rower as a result of a scheme run by Oxford Brookes University, which helps children with neurodevelopment disorders become more active.

The research programme called CLEAR, led by Oxford Brookes, was set up in 2017 following research by Professor Helen Dawes and her team which revealed how children with conditions affecting movement such as cerebral palsy found learning and participating in sport even more difficult.

The research highlighted how and why children with these conditions found performing physical activity more challenging and more tiring than their peers leading to them being discouraged from participation and a downward spiral of inactivity.

Sebastian Johnson first took part in the programme at primary school after struggling to take part in school PE sessions. He had suffered a serious brain injury at just six weeks old, affecting the strength and co-ordination in his left arm and hand. He is also visually impaired, has epilepsy and a moderate learning disability.

Following his experience on the CLEAR programme, Sebastian’s mum Charmain discovered the opportunity for him to row. 

Oxford Mail:  Groundbreaking Oxford university project inspires young disabled rower Sebastian Johnson in action

Starting at age 11, he has since gone on to be part of the British indoor para rowing team, winning a number of national and international titles, and he also rows for Falcon Rowing Club in Oxford. 

Sebastian, now aged 16, said: “I think it’s good when you’re at school and you have additional needs to have something where you don’t feel different. I really hope there will be others who go there who have additional needs and they get the benefit of it.

“I’m happy that my disability isn’t my only defining factor, and achieving in rowing has helped accept who I am. The CLEAR programme at Oxford Brookes has really helped me develop in lots of ways, so my message to people is if you have a disability, focus on what you can do and just have a go.” 

The university says the project has now benefited more than 1,000 children living with specific movement problems, and more than 250 young people with more complex conditions such as brain or spinal injuries, neuro-developmental and co-ordination disorders, learning difficulties and long-term physical disabilities. 

The team continued operating during lockdown thanks to a series of virtual sessions, and has recently returned to schools across Oxfordshire - currently working with around 700 pupils. 

The focus for next year’s project will be on tackling childhood obesity - an issue of increasing concern with physical activity levels amongst children falling as a result of the pandemic and national lockdowns. 

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