Imagine a child running around in the snow, making snowballs, building a snowman, and making snow angels. Now, imagine a child who has a physical disability out in the snow. This child is struggling to walk in the snow; it’s hard for her to pick up the snow and form it into a ball, and when she tries to make a snow angel, her legs and arms seem to be weighed down and look practically impossible for her to move.
I was that child. The one who struggled to walk in the snow, who took 10 minutes to make one snowball, and who couldn’t make a snow angel because her muscles wouldn’t cooperate with her. As a diverse individual, I’ve had many challenges throughout my life. I was born three months early, and as a result, I have cerebral palsy. Cerebral palsy affects my muscle control and balance, among many other things. This has caused me many hardships, but has also given me many wonderful experiences.
Cerebral palsy is caused by brain damage before birth, during birth, or immediately after birth and is not a degenerative disease. Cerebral palsy affects body movement, muscle control, muscle coordination, muscle tone, reflex, posture, and balance. Cerebral palsy is a common diagnosis that can occur in premature babies. I have triplegic cerebral palsy, which is a type that paralyzes or affects three limbs of the body. Physically, it affects my balance, muscle control, muscle tone, reflex, posture, and balance. Mentally, it is connected to an anxiety disorder, a learning disability, and an unspecified neurodevelopmental disorder. “Neuro” means how the neurons in the brain transmit information to other brain sites. If there is an interruption in the transmission (in my case — prematurity) then this diagnosis is a professional way of describing a brain processing difficultly.
As a child with a disability, I had a lot of physical challenges other children did not. While the other kids could run and jump on the playground, I was struggling just to walk on the uneven playground turf. I couldn’t climb the ladder to get to the top of the playground equipment and I couldn’t go on the slide, because I couldn’t keep from losing my balance and falling off the slide. Due to all of that, I missed out on some of the fun the other kids were having.
In addition to the physical challenges I faced, finding kids to play with was always difficult. As a child, I wore leg braces. They were clear with hot pink, Velcro straps, and came to just below my knee. I also wore a helmet while on the playground to protect my head during falls. It was soft, bright purple, and had a large white velcro strap that went under my chin to hold it on. The other kids didn’t understand what to make of my braces or helmet. Because they didn’t know what to make of my braces, helmet, or me, they just stared at me with confused looks on their faces. They never talked to me or played with me. They made me feel excluded and like being different was a bad thing. As I went from a child to a teenager, I kept my braces, but they evolved as I grew.
I began my education at a traditional preschool and continued it at a traditional kindergarten. After I finished kindergarten, my mom withdrew me from school and decided to homeschool me. She decided to homeschool me because she felt it would work better with my therapy schedule, and it gave me the opportunity to have a quiet learning environment and work at my own pace.
As a teenager, I started to notice the differences between my school experiences and those of other teenagers. My school days consisted of doing homework in the morning, going to physical therapy sessions in the afternoon, and being taught new lessons by my mom at night. Because I didn’t go to a traditional high school, I didn’t get to enjoy the extracurricular activities that most teenagers do.
When I was a teenager, I got a Facebook account and started to notice the differences between myself and the mainstream teen. Those differences were once again brought to the forefront when I started voice lessons at the age of 14, and I heard other kids my age talking about the things they were experiencing. I felt completely disengaged from people my age. I missed out on school dances, being part of a school debate team, sports team, and going to parties.
There were other teenage milestones I missed out on, too. I never drove a car, dated a boy, or rebelled as a teenager. Because my life was so different from that of other teenagers, I found it impossible to relate to them. I didn’t have any friends, and I spent a lot of time alone in my room. I felt sad, lonely and depressed.
Once I became an adult, I started to see, appreciate, and be extremely grateful for my physical disability. The positive effects of being a person with a physical disability greatly outweigh the negative affects. I’m a hard worker. I find ways to overcome the obstacles having a physical disability creates. I never give up on myself or my dreams. If I don’t find success doing something one way, I keep trying different ways of doing it until I find success. I don’t feel that I would have the tenacity that I do without having been faced and forced to overcome the obstacles in my life.
I feel that I am a very open-minded person. I am appreciative of all people regardless of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability, political views, and religious beliefs. I feel very passionate about the topic of diversity. I think it is a very important thing to have in the world. I feel there is so much to be learned from diverse people, their stories, and unique perspectives on the world. I think the world would a very dull place without a variety of diverse people and viewpoints. I feel my disability has given me a unique perspective on life and has helped to shape me into a diverse individual.
Today I am a 22-year-old confident, self-assured woman. I am passionate about raising awareness for cerebral palsy. I have started a blog to highlight the issues I face as a woman with cerebral palsy, and I hope to help others through my writing. I started college this year and have found it to be a really positive experience. It’s hard work, but I’m finding I can be successful in college. I love theatre and acting. I love the opportunity to be on stage and lose myself in the telling of someone else’s story. I am grateful for the theatrical opportunities I’ve had and for the chance to show others that even though you have a physical disability, you can still be a part of theatre.
I feel my differences have shaped me into the person I am today. My cerebral palsy has caused me many challenges and given me many gifts. I think it caused me to be stronger, work harder then I ever thought possible, and helped me to be more accepting of others. I think it has shown me what my limits are and forced me to find ways around them. I am proud to be a diverse individual.
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Thinkstock image by Alkir.