My son started kindergarten this past fall, and it has been an education. From love letters to girls, to bullies, to hot-versus-cold lunch, every day is a new and exciting adventure. Then there is the fact that I am exposed to a whole new range of five-year-olds and parents, outside the realms of my own offspring. One of his classmates has Cerebral Palsy, and as today is Cerebral Palsy Awareness Day, it seemed about time to share my education.
So what is Cerebral Palsy? If you had asked me pre-kindergarten, I would have mumbled something about a wheelchair, maybe about limited movement. For a condition that affects 17 million people worldwide, I knew remarkably little. Yet still, my description would have been in the ballpark, if not hitting a home run. Cerebral Palsy is a physical disability that affects movement and posture. In fact, it is the most common physical disability in childhood. This information sheet from Ideas for Change has been key in informing me about this disability.
I have to pause every time I look over those associated impairments. One in three is unable to walk, I see that. One in 10 has a severe vision impairment, okay, understandable. Three in four experience pain? How is it possible that the scientific understanding of Cerebral Palsy, its prevention and causation, remains much the same as it did 50 years ago, when 1 in 303 children in America are affected, and of those children, three in four experience pain. I know more about which kinds of lunchmeat and shellfish to eat on my third pregnancy than I did on my first, but we haven’t made any breakthroughs in Cerebral Palsy in 50 years. I’ll say it again, three in four experience pain. This blows my mind.
But beyond these statistics and black-and-white images of what it can look like, there is the human aspect. To my son, his classmate is just one of the girls. To be honest, he’s a little envious of the wheelchair. I don’t worry about how he interacts. Adults, on the other hand, may need a few tips.
So what can you do today? Find a local need and support it, write to the NIH and CDC to request that they add line-item funding for research (there currently is none specified), and share these infographics. But more than that, speak directly, speak normally, and relax.