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Boy with cerebral palsy gets custom-made clarinet and a boost in confidence

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LOMBARD, Ill. — There’s something extraordinary happening at Glen Westlake Middle School in Lombard.

Sixth grader Paul Ebihara plays the clarinet, and while it can be an extremely difficult instrument for anyone, it can be especially difficult for a child with cerebral palsy.

“He has a lot of trouble with fine motor things,” Lenelle Vitale, occupational therapist, said.  “And decreased strength and endurance.”

Paul has small hands and a smaller reach and even though he plays the piano and cello, the traditional clarinet is much more difficult.

“My fingers didn’t cover the holes all the way,” Paul said. “It squeaks.”

The team at Glen Westlake, his occupational therapists, his band directors and his parents came together to see what they could do to make playing the clarinet easier.

“He loves that experience of being on stage being and part of that group,” Joanne Ebihara, Paul’s mother, said. “He loves learning, being part of the collective and really feeling like he has that place.”

Julie Syperek is Paul’s band director and didn’t want Paul to lose the sense of community.

“Sometimes I don’t know the challenges that these students face so when I don’t know an answer, I am going to look for it,” Syperek said.

Syperek called Conn-Selmer, an Indiana company that manufactures and distributes instruments for children and adults. The company came on board and made a clarinet more suitable for Paul, with pads that cover the holes when he pushes on them called a plateau clarinet. Instead of a serial number, Conn-Selmer engraved Paul’s name on it making it one-of-a-kind.

The difference is remarkable. Paul can play easier, there's no more squeaking and his confidence has increased dramatically—not only in band but in the classroom as well.

It is sense of confidence Paul didn’t have before even though he has always been good at working around his challenges.

Paul’s parents said he feels like he has a place now. That his part, no matter where he is, is just as important as everyone else’s.

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