24 September 2010

The Sky's the Limit

About 4 years ago I decided to write my experiences of Living with Cerebral Palsy and other disabilities little did I realised that 4 years down the line I would see my own life in print for the world to read.

If you would like to find out more about my life so far, the highs and lows, then look no further you can purchase your own signed copy by clicking on the link below:

The Sky's the limit

For children with CP, communication is the key to unlocking their potential

Every adult and child has his or her own personality, beliefs, experiences and opinions that make him or her an individual. Every person has a unique way of communicating with others and method of making choices. A child with cerebral palsy is no exception.

Daniel, a ten year old child with CP, had difficulty speaking, and had not brought an assisting device to help him communicate with us. He walked into the treatment room, and kept pointing to his eyes. I tried to figure out what he was saying, but Daniel became frustrated when I couldn’t understand him. I apologized, and told him that I would have to call his mom into the room to translate. The minute she saw him, she told me that Daniel was saying the lights were too bright. When I reduced the brightness of the lights, Daniel became completely satisfied. As a result, I knew what that gesture meant, and we were able to continue his session. From then on he was able to learn from me, and I continued to learn from him.

With my experience, I know that we need to really listen and develop our own communication skills to be able to understand and respond to a child.
Often, a child’s body language may show insight into what he or she is feeling or wants to say. If a child does not respond when you interact with him or her, usually it is because he or she requires further explanation in order to understand. In this case, be patient; take the time to explain it thoroughly, look for the proper wording, and repeat what you say until you have been understood.

Similarly, a child needs to be taught what an object is and the meaning behind it before he or she can learn how to use it. He or she has to be told what, where, when and how to use certain objects before understanding its purpose and incorporating it into daily life. By taking the time to notice and address these areas of learning, we are able to fill in any gaps in his or her knowledge and establish communication between the child and us.

In Daniel’s case, we were halfway there when we tried to learn the meaning behind his gestures. However, when Daniel’s mom tried to teach him how to walk, she didn’t notice that he wanted to crawl instead. From our (adult’s or therapist’s) perspective, it is easy to overlook what the child wants in favour of doing what we think is best for them. That is another important component that we should address in communication.

We are there to guide your child into learning how to function independently, not to dictate every moment of his or her life. When it comes to decisions concerning him or her, ask what he or she wants to do. If it is wrong, correct it. When we speak with others, we give them choices about where to go, what to buy, and what to do. We take the time to listen and truly consider their suggestions. The same principle should apply to every child. Guide him or her through what is right or wrong, but let your child make decisions independently. In doing so, we are showing the child that we value his or her decisions, while stimulating his or her cognitive development in the process. That is an important step in establishing understanding between you and your child.

If you make an effort to reach out, you will be surprised at what your child can achieve. Don’t assume anything based on what he or she can do; communication is a two-way street that is filled with surprises. Every child deserves respect, so you should offer choices and give your child explanations whenever he or she doesn’t understand something. Elaborate and repeat yourself—don’t stop trying, and never give up listening to your child. Always observe, respond and remember: communication is the key to unlocking your child’s potential.

For more articles, visit http://www.enabledkids.ca.

02 September 2010

Having the first signs of cerebral palsy doesn’t set your child’s future in stone

One morning, I received a call from a woman named Elena who wanted to ask us some questions regarding her two month old granddaughter, Debbie. Elena had noticed that when Debbie’s back was touched, she would arch her back and throw her head backwards as well. Her right arm was always clenched in a fist, and she did not move very much. Elena told us that she had already gone to a pediatrician, but had been told that these were not signs of anything serious. As a mother with three kids herself however, she knew that there was something wrong. Considering the signs she had described, I knew that we had to bring Debbie in for some treatment. Once the girl was brought in, I could see why Elena was concerned. Debbie’s right leg did not move as much as her left, and her right hand was always clenched. Her body was stiff and tense, and when we tried lifting her off the ground, she would not tilt her head forward like a child would usually do.

These may be the first signs of cerebral palsy. If a child does not follow an object with his or her eyes, or does not want to turn his or her head to one side or the other, this may also indicate that something is wrong. The same can be said if a child does not grab for things with his or her hands, or if he or she is delayed in rolling, crawling and sitting. Should this be the case, it is best to start your child’s treatment as early as possible.

In the first few months of life, a child starts going through the normal stages of development. He or she learns how to roll, sit up, crawl, and move his or her arms and legs. If a child misses one of these milestones however, it will have a snowballing effect on the rest of his or her progress. For example, if he or she is not learning to get up and sit, it will impair his or her trunk mobility. As a result, the head or legs will not be used as much and the child will be unable to crawl properly. If we address these issues before they hinder a child’s growth and progress, we can minimize the effect of the condition in his or her daily life to a point where it is undetectable. That is why today, Debbie is completely cured, running and playing just like any child.

In many situations, both the medical and therapy community use a child’s diagnosis as a label accompanied by the claim of “permanent disability.” Yet, I have seen individuals with cerebral palsy who are able to lead independent, fulfilling lives. As a parent, it is up to you to teach your child about the world and to guide him or her through any difficulties he or she may come across.

So, if you see any behavior that seems atypical for your child, take initiative. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, and gather as much information as possible. Go to more than one physician, and make sure to consult experts who deal with neurological disorders more often than your general pediatrician. Also, even if your child does get diagnosed, don’t let yourself doubt his ability to develop and become the best he can be. You must believe in your child’s abilities, and focus on making realistic goals and teaching him or her how to achieve them.

My philosophy is that there is no treatment, only life. That is why as a therapist, I believe that there are no exercises to learn, only function. When I have a patient, I only guide him or her during the function so that he or she will learn to do it independently. I also request parents to continue working with their child at home so that there is no disruption in the teaching and learning process. As a parent, don’t let anyone set your child’s future in stone, and remember: your child is capable of things no one can predict.

For more articles, visit http://www.enabledkids.ca