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Life after stroke: Chad's journey to independence

Life after stroke: Chad's journey to independence
Photo: Chad Bridgman
When Chad Bridgman was 11 years old, he was struck down by a mystery bug which caused him to suffer a stroke and paralysed him on one side of his body.

It took three emergency room visits and one painful month to discover that Chad had a rare African bug.

The aftereffects were just as damaging to Chad and his sense of belonging, with his new disability forcing him to change schools to find the facilities and specialised teachers he required for his paralysis and autism.

After many years of recovery, and now 19 years old, Chad has come a long way.

Chad now attends STEPS Pathways College in the Sunshine Coast, a specialist and one-of-a-kind College for young adults with a disability and autism.

Chad describes the College as his chance to “try to move forward” and find his place in the world. Chad joined the College around a year ago after it was recommended by an adviser at his school.
Struggling through some of his schooling, Chad says that he has now found his “peace” at STEPS Pathways College.

“I never liked going to school but, being here, I do now,” Chad said. “It’s fun and enjoyable, I feel supported by the teachers.”

Chad’s success has also been noted by his teachers, with STEPS Pathways College trainer Craig Bardsley noting the immense change that Chad has had in recent years.

“Chad has transformed from someone who was uncertain about his future and felt like he had little control over any of the decisions made about him, into an assertive man who is now set on a path with direction,” Craig said.

“He now speaks with confidence and advocates for himself and is helping other students to do the same.

“He is a leader in class and is setting a great example of what it means to be a STEPS Pathways College Student.”

One of the many programs Chad has chosen to undertake is the College’s café work experience.

The College has recently built the fully functional Café on George at their Caloundra campus, where students learn from a specialised trainer and café manager.

If a student chooses to undertake the program, they have the chance to learn how to make coffees, create sandwiches, serve customers, take orders, and maintain kitchen hygiene.

Beyond workplace skills, the program also helps students practice essential social skills in a realistic but supportive environment.

Chad has been working one day a week in the program but has already seen immense change in himself.

“I have gotten better at a lot of things, and I’m far more confident in doing them,” Chad said.

“Before I started at the café, there were a lot of things that I didn’t think I could do.

“Now, having done them and been good at them, I feel confident in pursuing a job in a café after I leave STEPS Pathways College.

“I know I can be a valuable employee.”

Chad specifically points out the register as his favourite part of the work, as he loves the chance to interact with a range of people.

“It has made me more confident in making friends and talking to people,” Chad said.

While Chad is now comfortable in his ability to secure a hospitality role in post-College life, Chad’s dream is to work in IT.

“I love technology, I love to pull apart computers,” Chad said.

“I would love to work in IT, I would love to find flaws in people’s computer systems and help them fix them.

“I like helping people like that.”

Amongst its range of courses, STEPS Pathways College offers a technology class, which Chad is particularly excited to take part in soon.

In the meantime, Chad has been working on furthering his social skills and earning his driver’s licence, which Chad lists as his short-term goals.

While Chad admits that sometimes independence seems “scary”, he is “confident” that he will become ready through the support of the College’s trainers.

Chad hopes that when he leaves the College, people will see him as who he is, rather than any misconceptions they may have.

When asked about what he wished more people knew about him, Chad keeps it simple – “that I’m smart and capable”.


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