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Feeling Invisible as an Adult With Mild Cerebral Palsy

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I finally decided to get a service dog. Friends have encouraged me to apply for one; however, I thought service dogs couldn’t be helpful for someone like me with a case of mild cerebral palsy. Upon researching I learned about mobility service dogs. Mobility service dogs can help with the stability and balance of their handler.

I used a walker for a short time, and it helped me ambulate pre- and post-IT band surgery. While I salute my walker for the help it has given me over the years, upon wanting to continue my college education, I had to think of a more practical solution. Something that would not only aid my gait and balance, but boost my overall confidence as a disabled individual as well.

There was a problem, though. Upon calling to ask about acquiring a service animal the gentleman I spoke with explained that he had worked with individuals with cerebral palsy before; however, they were wheelchair users.

“I’m ambulatory to an extent.” I said.

“So you would be looking for an emotional support animal?” The man on the other line said.

“Well — no — not exactly…”

I have an appointment scheduled for tomorrow as of writing this, but the question I was left with wasn’t about my service dog, or the hoops I would have to jump through in order to get him trained and certified. It was simply: “Does everyone hear ‘cerebral palsy’ and think wheelchairs?”

I sat there for a while. I reflected on my visits to The University of New Mexico’s
Continuum of Care group for Adults with Cerebral Palsy, how some looked “normal” while others were in wheelchairs, used walkers, canes, or anything in between. I realized cerebral palsy was a spectrum, especially in the sense that it had varying degrees of impairment depending on the individual. Those of us with cerebral palsy are all different, and it exhibits itself differently; however, that doesn’t mean others are right with their myopic view of what cerebral palsy looks like.

I became worried. What if I didn’t qualify for a service animal? What if I wasn’t “disabled enough” to meet their standards? I feel as though this isn’t something anyone with a disability should have to worry about. I then began to Google things like: “cerebral palsy advocacy” and could only come up with things as local to me as Albuquerque. I also noticed the advocacy program that did exist focused on parents of children with cerebral palsy, but when I tried to find advocacy specifically for adults?

Cue the crickets, please.

While I’m sure the aforementioned advocacy program includes helping adults with cerebral palsy, I found this problematic too. What exactly happens when those of us with cerebral palsy grow up; when we smash the life expectancy rates doctors put on us decades ago? Was something magical supposed to happen when I turned 18 that meant I wouldn’t be “as disabled” anymore?

No, of course not. So why are we somehow seemingly just beginning to have care and support available for adults? I know I am one of many; I’m not alone in this. That being said, I turn to you, dear reader and ask:

“Where do we go from here?”

Getty image by Pink Badger.
Originally published: February 25, 2018
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