For being the most common motor disability among children, Cerebral Palsy, often referred to as CP, is not known to most people. It affects nearly 500,000 children and adults in the United States, so it is not a rare condition. It is rather shocking then; that most people are unaware of the basic facts about CP, while some have no idea what it is at all. Each March, advocacy organizations promote a month-long time of awareness to promote general knowledge and understanding of the condition. Most of what I know about CP, I’ve learned from my father, who has lived with it his entire life.
My father was born with Cerebral Palsy. For most of his childhood, he had trouble walking and suffered rigid muscle movements and speech difficulties. As a child, he had to wear braces on his legs to help him walk, and he often recalls being made to feel different because of his CP. What a lot of people don’t understand about CP is that it does not involve cognitive disabilities, but rather motor impairments. The part of my dad’s brain that allows him to think and understand is not affected one bit. In fact, my father is one of the most intelligent people I know. Rather, the part of his brain that controls his motor skills is impaired, meaning that he has stiff muscles, poor coordination, and difficulty with motor control.
My father has trouble moving. He has a hard time getting around, and his body doesn’t always do what he would like it to. But he is not stupid, and he is not any less deserving of the good things in life than anybody else. My father is not something to stare at, he is not someone to laugh at, he is human. Simply and imperfectly human. My dad has the biggest heart out of everyone I know. His laugh is so ridiculously funny that you can’t help but laugh along with him. His joy for life and his ambition for everyday are both inspiring and contagious. Out of everything that I’ve learned about CP, the most significant is that it doesn’t strip you of the essence of being human. Cerebral Palsy has not stolen my father’s joy and pursuit of a good life, and it never will.
Cerebral Palsy is a debilitating condition, in that it prevents normal physical function from occurring. It is not debilitating in any other form. Though CP has stolen my Father’s ability to walk on his own, and has caused him several falls and injuries, it has not touched his state of mind. CP cannot steal my father’s joy, intelligence, humor, wit, or love. My father is not defined by his condition. He does not live his life within the confines of what a typical person with his condition should by medical terms. He pushes his limits and lives his life how he wants to. He has never let his CP hold him back, and he never should. If I could share only one lesson in regards to Cerebral Palsy awareness, it would be that my father is not a disability. He is a human being, and he should only ever be treated as such.
Keep these things in mind when you encounter someone with CP, or a similar condition. The reality of it is that we all have something that makes us different, and that we are all fighting a different fight. Be more aware of the reality of Cerebral Palsy, and try to better understand the fight that is being fought by those living with it. That, in my opinion, is the best kind of awareness you can have.