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To Children With Cerebral Palsy: You've Got a Friend

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Dear Children With Cerebral Palsy,

You may have seen my last letter and thought it was cool that someone would take the time to write you and encourage you. I’m a 19-year-old with cerebral palsy. I wrote that letter because when I was growing up I looked for encouragement online, but everything was for parents. I hope these letters will be the start of changing that. This letter will be more for older kids.

Growing up with a disability (and possibly a speech disorder and more movement than your friends) is definitely not always a walk in the park. You may accidentally hit a friend, say a simple word ten times before someone understands, or run over someone’s foot. But in the end, you’ll have many funny stories to tell when you’re older.

I do want you to know that not everyone has the patience to wait for you, to figure out what you’re saying, to help you. Most people are willing to help, but don’t be surprised if you meet a few people who don’t understand. Some people are scared, as silly as that might sound. It’s not uncommon to meet people with disabilities, but in some towns it is. I live in and around towns like this. I was the first girl with a physical disability at all of my schools, at the church where I grew up, and at the studio where I danced. But because of me they are now serving other people with disabilities, and they have more resources for them. You too might be the first person with a disability at some places.

Understanding people with speech disorders isn’t always easy; you might already know this. It doesn’t get much easier as you grow up either. Your family may still have trouble understanding you. But it’s OK because there are other ways of communicating, like sign language or pointing to what you want. Find a way that works for you; this might be a mixture of two or more ways. Know who you’re talking to; how will they understand you best?

People who don’t know you very well may help you too much. I don’t know why, but people often think they’re helping when they aren’t. I guess that’s just the way they are. They’ll learn over time. As I mentioned before, some people are scared of helping you, or rather they don’t know how to help you or understand you, and that’s OK. Just smile and ask someone else. Other people might be scared of helping you too much. If you’re older you can just let them know it’s OK to help you when you ask. You can let everyone know that.

If you can, stay close with the friends who support and love you at all times. As you grow up they will be the ones who really help you through the hard times in life. Trust me. No matter how long you’ve known them, they will be there. Like Hunter Hayes says in his song “Invisible,” “If you look past this moment, you’ll see you’ve got a friend, waving a flag for all you are and all you’re gonna do.” I’d recommend listening to this song if you ever feel alone; it has helped me a lot.

-A Young Adult With CP

Originally published: May 1, 2017
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