Friday, March 24, 2017

In Other News: Let's Talk Cerebral Palsy

Growing up, my first information about cerebral palsy was from Nollywood comedies. Nigerian movies would have one character who was regarded an “imbecile”, that would have no control of his limbs and mouth, and would drool. These characters would walk funny and talk funny.

When I grew older, and I volunteered at an autism centre, and then met a child who had cerebral palsy and autism, I became so angry with those comedies. I was angry because rather than get educated about the disorder and create positive awareness about it, these people were compounding the issue and increasing stigmatization about cerebral palsy and other developmental disorders.

So what exactly is CEREBRAL PALSY?

Cerebral palsy (CP) is a disorder that affects body movement, muscle tone, muscle coordination, muscle control, posture, balance, reflex, and motor skills. It occurs when there is a damage to the brain before birth, during birth, or during the first 3 years of life; at these times, the brain is still developing.

There are different types of CP; spastic CP causes stiffness and movement difficulties, athetoid CP leads to involuntary and uncontrolled movements, while ataxic CP causes a problem with balance and depth perception. Some people with CP have a mixture of 2 types, and this is called Mixed CP (simple, right?)


Founder Cerebral Palsy Center, Nonye Nweke and her daughter Zim
photo credit: Mrs. Nonye Nweke


Like autism, cerebral palsy ranges from mild to severe, so some people with CP are more limited than others. I have worked directly with at least 3 children with CP; 1 of them could walk without aid, one walked with braces, and 1 had no control of his limbs. Cerebral palsy affects standing, sitting, walking, talking, eating, and many other things depending on the individual. For some people with CP, the condition may also cause hearing or visual impairment, and speech limitations.

Although some children with CP may have learning disabilities, many of them are able to successfully learn and build a career. Like I said earlier, I have worked directly with 3, and 1 of them in particular was very intelligent, even though he could not walk, use his hands, or control his mouth muscles to talk.


Farida Bedwei
photo credit: www.bellanaija.com


In 2015, at the International Conference on Disability in Lagos, one of the speakers was Farida Bedwei, a Ghanaian who has CP and is the owner of a major IT firm in Ghana. I have a friend who has CP, and is a lawyer and a disability advocate; Tobiloba Ajayi is also a Mandela Washington Fellow. Both Farida and Tobiloba attended mainstream schools, not special schools.


Tobiloba Ajayi
photo credit: MWF2016 Impact Story

And that is why I am angry with the image Nollywood gave of CP, because Cerebral Palsy is not comedy. The stigmatization of CP kids is one major reason schools do not know that these children can learn. Parents of children that have cerebral palsy need to know that there’s help for their child, even though he/she has special needs.

There is currently no cure for CP, but there are therapies that can help the child achieve maximum potential in growth and development. Physiotherapy and occupational therapy can help to improve motor skills, sitting, and movement. Speech therapy is also known to help with speech limitations. Like it is with autism, there are devices and apps that assist individuals with CP with communication. And as is said, love is the biggest form of therapy, because it is the foundation for all therapies. Stigmatization of people with CP should be stopped, and we should love them instead.


Physical therapy for a child with CP
photo credit: Cerebral Palsy Center

Tomorrow (March 25) is Cerebral Palsy Awareness Day, and the Cerebral Palsy Centre (CPC) in Lagos is organizing a walk for CP by 8 a.m from the National Stadium. My friend Tobiloba Ajayi is also organizing a seminar (and launching her third book. Whoop!), with the theme Inclusive Mainstream Education for children with CP at Ikeja by 11 a.m.

I have seen children with CP learn, and I have seen adults with CP who are successful because they were given a chance to be all that they can be, without focusing on what they could not do.

The Cerebral Palsy Centre is doing an amazing work, especially helping children with CP whose parents have abandoned.

Benola Cerebral Palsy Initiative is also doing an amazing work creating awareness, encouraging an inclusive society, and providing support for individuals with CP.

You don’t need to have a child with CP to help children with CP and their families. Support these people that have become a voice for individuals with CP in Nigeria.

You can reach Benola by visiting their website www.benola.org and reach the Cerebral Palsy Centre on their website www.cpcenter.com.ng