The problems that a person experiences with cerebral palsy varies, it is an umbrella term and the symptoms and level of restrictions range from mild to severe. Someone at the milder end of the scale may just have problems affecting one limb or one side of their body, someone with moderate cerebral palsy may have more than one limb affected and be unable to use their arms and legs in a meaningful way and depend on a wheelchair. Others, will have very little physical abilities, they may be unable to drink, eat, walk, talk or communicate at all. They may be incontinent and have very little understanding, the extent of their disabilities may be wide ranging.
When we see people with disabilities, we see them as equals to us and we do not and should not treat them any differently. However, it is important that they receive the recognition that they deserve for the daily struggles they face, which we may not always give consideration to.
Women with Cerebral Palsy
In this article I am going to focus on someone around the middle of the scale, who has relatively severe physical disabilities meaning there are, for example wheelchair dependent, have some use of their arms but hand dexterity may be poor. I am going to focus on this from a female perspective and how this can affect someone negatively growing up and how they may often feel as though they are ‘on the outside looking in’ due to their disabilities. Many of us will not even turn our minds to the problems they will encounter on a day to day basis and the fact that they are unable to do the things we often take for granted. Below, I look at the type of things that a woman with cerebral palsy may struggle with throughout the various stages of their lives.
School years can be difficult; attending school will mean that additional support may need to be put in place just to get through the school day. Things like, taking part in PE and general activities, will be difficult, if at all possible, but then so will some very simple activities that some of us never even have to think about, like getting your own school dinner tray and taking it to the table. They may need help cutting up food, help getting to and using the toilet, help with things that the majority of the other pupils will do independently. Children can be cruel, even without meaning to; they may get left out, not included in friendship groups all for being ‘different’.
If children’s parties are attended, they will likely have to sit out and watch as their other school friends play on the bouncy castle, they will be unable to just go to the park or play out on the street with their friends. The ballet and gymnastic classes that their friends talk about so excitedly will be a long and unreachable dream. They may not get invited to play dates at friend’s houses as their parents will worry about how to ‘look after them’. They will be treated differently.
This can lead to someone feeling very alone, isolated and, on the outside looking in.
On top of this the challenges that every girl has to face, dealing with hormones, menstrual cycles and other girl problems, will be even more difficult for someone to manage if they are suffering with a condition such as cerebral palsy. After school they may want to go to university, their options will likely be a lot more limited than their able bodied friends, as will finding employment.
Socialising will become more difficult, they will get invited out for drinks after work and other events with family and friends, but at the forefront of their minds every time someone invites them somewhere will be, ‘but is it accessible?’.
All this time there will be things that on a day to day basis, we as women, take for granted, for example when it comes to clothing – choosing the outfits and shoes we like, not the ones that are most practical taking into account limited mobility and possible dexterity problems. Also, getting dressed, putting on underwear without help.
From a beauty perspective, putting on make up, doing your hair, painting nails, toenails etc, will all be more difficult than they are for others.
All of these things, a lot of women like to do, and do so on a daily basis without too much effort, however for someone who does not have full use of their arms/hands, every day tasks such as getting ready in the morning can be a struggle.
A woman with cerebral palsy is just as likely to want to be in a relationship and have a family as someone without cerebral palsy. There is no evidence that having cerebral palsy affects fertility and women all over the world with cerebral palsy have given birth to healthy children. There are no increased risks of miscarriage etc but there is the higher possibility that a vaginal delivery may be more difficult, if there are pelvic problems or if labour would affect spasms. During pregnancy certain medications cannot be taken, therefore if medication is usually taken to reduce spasms, this may need to be stopped, meaning that along with all the other negative side affects from pregnancy, this may be another that they have to overcome in addition to others.
Once the baby is born, lots of mothers take it for granted that they can just go home with their new baby and care for them. However, some people, such as people with cerebral palsy may need more help from family and friends, specialist equipment to make this possible.
Therefore, whilst many people with cerebral palsy have the ability to do all of the tasks and activities mentioned above, I think that we should all be taking our hats off to anyone coping with any form of disability regardless of age, gender, ability for the hurdles they may need to overcome to achieve these. It is important to remember that everyone has daily struggles that we are not always aware of. This article purely looks a few of the types of struggles that a women with cerebral palsy may have to deal with, this does not provide a full insight into what it is like. Anyone dealing with any form of disability deserves to be treated as an equal, but to be given the respect they deserve for the challenges they face.