Cerebral Palsy In 4-Year-Old Kid

I have always know since I was young that I had asthma. Some of my earliest childhood memories are of my frequent stays in the pediatrics ward of the hospital under an oxygen tent. My parents spoke to me about the limitations it could cause when I overexerted myself, but they always encouraged me to never stop participating because of it. I grew up never feeling limited, but I was always aware of my body and learned to listen to it. When Olivia began school, my husband and I were adamant she be included in every aspect of the experience. We were fortunate to have a support team who shared our beliefs. Obviously, we knew she wouldn’t be running through the schoolyard, playing chase and climbing up and down the monkey bars, but this didn’t mean she couldn’t participate in the experience of a fun-filled afternoon with her fellow classmates. We provided bubbles, small kites, wind toys — anything Olivia could use and share in the fun with a friend or two.

Olivia will be 5 in October. When I speak to her about how cerebral palsy affects her body, I do it in an age-appropriate way so she can understand. For instance, one time I got her doll from the toy box. It was a soft-bodied doll with cute little yarn braids and a floppy hat. I showed her the dolls legs. I said, “Do you see how soft doll’s legs are? If I stand her up, she falls down. If I put this book behind her, she stands up.” Olivia smiled. She really watched my explanation and focused on the doll’s legs. I then proceeded to tell her, “Olivia, your legs are soft and not as strong, too. If Mommy stands you up, you fall, right?” Olivia smiled in recognition of the response. “So this is why you stand really well with your standing frame! Your frame is like doll’s book.” Then I told her, “This is because you have something called cerebral palsy. Your muscles don’t work the way they should.”

Being able to speak to our daughter about her limitations absolves the elephant in the room. Olivia is a smart kid. She knows she is different in some ways, but because of our little conversations, she is more confident. We encourage her to participate and to put herself out there. She is a great kid with a wonderful personality. By understanding what it is that affects her, she can become more comfortable in her own skin and continue to spread awareness in her own way. Will this be the answer for everyone in the same situation? No, maybe not. But for our family, it was essential. We would not allow cerebral palsy to become a dirty word. We would not allow Olivia’s diagnosis to become taboo. Cerebral palsy is a part of her. It doesn’t define who she is or who she will grow to become.