Cerebral Palsy, Part One: About Cerebral Palsy
This is the first of a three-part series on Cerebral Palsy. Today's post is geared more towards those who don't know a lot about cerebral palsy, explaining what it is and how it works. The next post will talk about music therapy and how it can be used to help individuals with Cerebral Palsy. The third section will list some resources for more information and services.
March is Cerebral Palsy Awareness month, so it seemed to me like the perfect time to talk about a disorder that has some misconceptions.
Cerebral palsy is a disorder that affects motor skills-- such as movement, balance, and posture. It can affect everything from the ability to walk to the ability to swallow.
Sometimes when I'm explaining something, I find it easier to start by saying what it is NOT. Here's some things that cerebral palsy is not:
1. Cerebral palsy is not contagious. Cerebral palsy comes from some sort of malfunction in the part of the brain that controls muscle movements. It can be developed before, during, or after birth. It isn't genetic, and you can't catch it from anyone else.
2. Cerebral palsy is not an intellectual disability. Cerebral palsy can come together with intellectual disabilities-- and mental disorders and blindness and deafness for that matter-- but most people who have cerebral palsy have a normal (or even above normal) level of intelligence. One example-- a girl I went to highschool with has cerebral palsy, and has very limited control of her arms and legs. This didn't stop her from being a straight A student and a skilled painter.
(Please note that a lot of people who have disabilities get annoyed at being called out as "inspirational" just for living their everyday lives. I didn't know Megan Rees well enough to say how she felt about being described that way in the news article (she was waaaay more popular than I was and we only talked once or twice) but I included the link anyway because I wanted to show off the self portrait she did that's included with the story. That is amazing skill, regardless of whether it was painted using a hand or a mouth to hold the brush.)
3. Cerebral palsy is not degenerative. There isn't a cure, but it also isn't going to cause more damage to the brain over time. What does change over time is the effect that the brain injury can affect a person, as well as the skills and coping mechanisms that person develops.
4. Cerebral palsy is not the same for everyone. There are different levels of severity; one person might just walk a little slower than average while one person might use a wheelchair and be unable to speak. Really, cerebral palsy is a group of many similar disorders, though they are often grouped into three main types: spastic (causing stiffness), dyskinesia (causing uncontrollable movements), and ataxia (causing poor coordination). These types can also be mixed.
5. Cerebral palsy is not the end of the world. Getting a diagnosis for yourself or for a child can be an emotional experience--I know that firsthand--so it's normal to spend some time grieving. And for those looking in from the outside, the many challenges that come with cerebral palsy can look impossible. But the truth is that it's entirely possible (even probable) for people who have cerebral palsy to live successful and happy lives. Even for individuals who have more severe forms of the disorder, therapies and assistive devices can help increase independence and life skills. There are olympic athletes and bodybuilders who have cerebral palsy.
One thing about "visible disabilities" is that a lot of times perceptions of that disability are more limiting than the disability itself. That is certainly the case for cerebral palsy, as this comedian explains:
Maybe the most important thing any of us can learn about a particular disability is that the people who have it are, well, people. They live their lives, they spend time with friends and families, they have jobs, they say nasty things about other drivers, they have good days and bad. They aren't "victims" of a disability, and if they are "inspirational" it's because they choose to be.
We'll wrap up there for now; please follow the links if you want to learn more. Coming up, I'll step into my music therapist shoes* and chat about what music therapy can do for individuals who have cerebral palsy.
(*I do not actually have music therapist shoes, but in some circles I am recognized as a music therapist that regularly shows up to work in bright pink crocs.)
Please feel free to comment below, especially if you have any questions or if you have more information about CP to share. See you again soon!