CP Frequently Asked Questions

What is Cerebral Palsy?
What causes Cerebral Palsy?
What does the VCP do?
What’s it like to live with CP?

What’s it like to live with CP?

YOUTH ASK about adapting to disabilities.
Derek Isobe formally of the Sunny Hill Hospital research staff holds a Masters Degree in Clinical Experimental Psychology. He is past President of Nova Vita Housing Cooperative and Secretary to the Board, BC Coalition of People with Disabilities. As a professional with a disability, Mr. Isobe is often asked about adapting to disability, and he writes a DEAR Derek column for The Voice of the Cerebral Palsied's newsletter, Tone of Voice. Here he answers some typical questions.

How healthy are youth with disabilities?
On average, they are as healthy as non-disabled youth, except for being subject to more psychological problems and social isolation. There might, however, be increased health care to treat and manage the disability.

Do people with physical disabilities necessarily experience social and psychological disabilities?

Often they don't, but some disabilities affect a person in several ways. Cerebral Palsy (CP), for example, is a neuromotor condition caused by brain damage. The social and psychological problems can include:

Difficulties in social, peer, and sibling interaction;
Self-esteem problems caused by body image;
Family stress factors.

What daily problems face people with disabilities?

It depends on the disability and on attitude. A speech impaired person might feel unable to order a meal by phone. A paraplegic might have trouble getting out of bed. Largely, the adaptive skills that the person and society apply to situations determine whether physical problems become disabilities. Devices and procedures can compensate for physical deficits, but people must want to find or create solutions.

Is meeting people a problem if you have a disability?
If the person tries to be outgoing, he or she will make friends. Realistically, though, some people will see the disability first and the person second. My experience has been that this attitude can be changed if the disabled person invests time, energy, patience, and understanding. Left alone, attitudes take a long time to change.

What about dating?
Dating adds a level of complexity to the relationship. Studies show that disabled youth are more sensitive to physical appearance than the non-disabled population. Thus a teenager who has lost a hand as a child might choose to switch from a hook to a hand prosthesis. Another example is a CP person who is attracted to a non-disabled person and trying to be noticed. The other person might perceive the CP person as a potential friend but preclude him or her as a potential lover because of the disability. This is a most troublesome obstacle to overcome. Perhaps the best idea is to keep trying; eventually a person will meet another, and the issues around the disability will dissolve.

What is social life like for youth with disabilities?
Sometimes lacking. Homework may take three times as long as for other students. With school, physiotherapy, music therapy, riding therapy, occupational therapy, etc., it can be difficult to develop friends and interests.

What can people do to help?
A commonly held belief is that disabled persons want to be treated as non-disabled. I disagree. We want to be respected as persons, rather than as disabled or non-disabled persons. We will continue to have special needs, but it would be nice to roll down a street and stand out because I am wearing nice clothes, not because I happen to need wheels to get around. Society's attitudes toward disabled people have come far in the last twenty years, but not far enough.

How do able-bodied people react to you?

Typically with open-minded curiosity. They ask some very good questions and some very embarrassing ones. A few self-appointed experts believe that they know everything about disability issues and that the disabled should listen to them. A few people still come up and talk to you because they think it looks good to be associating with a disabled person.

What helps CP youth to succeed in regular schools?
Studies have suggested such factors as peer interaction, social feedback, teacher-student interaction, self-esteem, and family cohesiveness.

How can one assist a person with disabilities to adapt psychologically and socially?

Self-esteem and socialization skills are two important factors that affect Psychosocial adaptation. Anything that boosts self-esteem or increases positive social interactions is of assistance. Encourage participation in social events, home activities such as cooking and dusting, and hobbies such as wheelchair sports and fishing, which contribute to independence.

The Ministry of Health provides information about resources for persons with disabilities and their families. Call weekdays, 8:30-4:30. From Victoria: 387-3024. Toll-free 1-800-742-1820.

Where else can people get information?
Advocacy Access, BC Coalition of People with Disabilities, #204 - 456 West Broadway, Vancouver. Tel: 875-0188.

."Youth Ask" is designed for use as a handout. Copying for this purpose is encouraged.