Living With Cerebral Palsy

The seventh of our series of ten articles on cerebral palsy (CP) looks at the nature and range of challenges that people with CP face on a daily basis. Understanding these challenges enables the reader to appreciate the handicapping effects of CP, and how to limit such effects to a minimum.

We mentioned in previous articles that management strategies such as therapy and surgery, and the various tools effectively help people with CP move about and communicate. Useful as these may be, environmental factors are as important as the willpower of the individual in determining whether one can indeed be a fully contributing member of society in one's adult life.

One such environmental factor is access. While availability to public amenities, education, employment and recreation seem like givens to able-bodied people, such access can never be taken for granted for people with disabilities, and in particular for people with CP. Leading an independent life can prove rather challenging if a person with CP has to climb flights of stairs or balance carefully on escalators while in public buildings.

Going to the washroom can be a hassle if one enters, only to discover that the cubicles are too small to fit one's wheelchair. The daily commute may burn a hole in one's pocket if the public transport infrastructure does not cater to the needs of people with physical abilities; taxis are generally a much more expensive alternative form of commuting to and from work.

Besides access to infrastructure, people with CP (like any other person) need access to education, and consequently to employment. Particularly in developing countries, such opportunities are mostly limited to able-bodied people; legislation, if present, is not effectively enforced.

Beyond access to "hardware" such as infrastructure and employment, access to society's "software" is very much an interactive process between people with disabilities and able-bodied people. Indeed there is a need for a paradigm shift: people have the same basic needs, whether they have disabilities or not. Besides the right to food, shelter and work, people with disabilities have a right to form lasting friendships, and in general belong to the human race.

For example, it is impolite for someone to walk away from another because one can not understand what the other is trying to say, regardless whether one has a disability or not. Worse, it is unacceptable behaviour to mimic the movements of someone with CP, as are negative labels as '' retard "or" spastic ", or" subnormal ". Prejudice and teasing can be very damaging to children and adults alike. It is a matter of personal and social responsibility to preserve and uphold an environment of genuine respect for all people.

While much can be done to create an environment supportive of people with CP, it is also the up to individuals to discover and realise the potential in themselves. In the formative years, children with CP should be nurtured in an environment that fosters a healthy self-esteem and promotes self-sufficiency, rather than an over-protective approach that promotes over-dependency. This is beneficial in the long term, where a person with CP will require a positive self-image in order to cope with any negative experiences in adult life. Opportunities for people with CP to learn and grow, even well into adulthood, also provide them valuable experiences to interact with others, and make new friendships.

Besides a positive attitude that helps to maintain good mental health, people with CP, like any other person, should be encouraged to eat well and exercise regularly to maintain good physical health. Information on nutritious, high-fibre, low-fat diets, as well as activities to improve one's cardiovascular fitness, flexibility and motion, is more readily available to people today due to the advances of modern technology such as the Internet. People with CP have the opportunity to avail themselves to such information, and make meaningful choices that will enhance their lifestyles.

CP is not a life-threatening condition and people with CP are able to have a decent education, satisfying careers, become parents, and lead long and productive lives. While some limitations are unavoidable, these pale in significance to the support that is rendered by society, and the self-belief of the individual with CP.