Bowling. Dancing. Art classes. Lyle likes to stay busy. And now, thanks to a major personal achievement, he can add swimming to the list.

Lyle, 55, was first referred to YWCA Edmonton’s Disability Services in 2012. He lives full-time in a support home to help him manage with his cerebral palsy and mild intellectual disability. He enjoys participating in activities through a regular day program, bowling with his dad, relaxing at home with his mom, and playing games on his iPad.

As active and capable as he is, there are some things Lyle can’t do — like fasten a button, or do up a zipper. That’s because, for his entire life, Lyle has struggled with biting his fingers to the point where he’s lost most of his digits and his fine motor skills with them.

“He didn’t seem to notice the pain,” explained Rebecca, Lyle’s Service Coordinator. “He expressed that he wanted to go swimming and do all these other things but because of his biting, he couldn’t do it.”

That all changed recently. In partnership with Persons with Developmental Disabilities (PDD) and its Community Outreach and Assessment Support Team (COAST), Disability Services developed a plan to help Lyle curb his habit and conquer new activities, like swimming.

“We came up with a team-based approach,” said Rebecca. “He was Captain Lyle, and everyone else was part of the team.”

The team introduced a rewards system, where Lyle would receive a check mark for every day he didn’t bite his fingers. Once he earned seven check marks, he could go for coffee and order a specialty drink. They also redirected negative attention for his habit to positive attention for his progress.

Within months, Lyle hit his goal: he stopped biting his fingers enough that he could go swimming.

“He’s been super successful with it,” said Rebecca. “He’s shown pride, and he’s getting attention in a different way now. He still struggles at times, but this was one of the first times in his life where he was asked to do something, and he accomplished it. For anyone, that’s something worth celebrating.”


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