Questions from Strangers

One of the most interesting aspects of having cerebral palsy is the curiosity of others. We live in a culture concerned with offending those around us. It does seem advantageous to be respectful of people, as I’ve learned from time to time that rude inquisitions rarely lead anywhere positive. However, holding back from asking genuine questions of curiosity could result in the loss of a meaningful connection. If fear of offending someone like me with a disability causes you to shy away, then we could be missing out on a great conversation. The shoe isn’t totally on your foot as the able body person. Being the individual with cerebral palsy I carry the responsibility of reacting positively to someone’s inquisitions. If I come across defensive when engaging in a conversation about CP, it could be just like someone who avoids asking questions. The defensiveness on my part could leave someone feeling rude for asking. It would seemingly shut down the conversation and take cerebral palsy off the table as a topic of conversation. When I do get asked questions about my awkward movements or slurred speech, we often find ourselves in good conversation.

Cerebral palsy is an umbrella term covering different types of brain injuries effecting movement. The disability effects physical movement on a wide continuum. Some of us with CP may be confined to a wheel chair, while others effected with the disability could experience symptoms so mild the passer-by wouldn’t notice. Still, many are somewhere in the middle. Finding myself somewhere in-between has brought about surprising interactions. Sometimes the interactions happen in unexpected circumstances. A few years ago, I found myself inside a Fred Meyer. We were simply killing time and while inside the store decided to grab coffee. I was waiting for my iced mocha when a gentleman sitting near-by made an inquisitive comment. After hearing my speech while ordering the coffee he wondered if I had suffered a stroke. It caught me off guard. I hadn’t been asked about a stroke before, but I was tickled by the question. Life has taught me it takes courage for someone to inquire. I smiled answering no and explained I have cerebral palsy. It was a simple interaction that I will always remember simply because he took the time to ask.

Most often the questions from strangers revolve around curiosity about the disability I have. Rarely does someone ask about how cerebral palsy effects my life. A few months ago, I was approached by someone who had recognized my disability as cerebral palsy. While hanging out with a buddy, this woman was curious about how CP affected me day to day. One of the most surprising questions came from the interaction. She wanted to know the most difficult thing I did each day and the easiest thing I did on a daily basis. In discussing cerebral palsy with others, I find people make an educated guess about physical tasks I can or cannot perform. One of the most common is a surprise over my ability to drive. They often seem surprised when I talk about the tasks that are challenging, like tying my shoes or paying with cash.

When I was asked about the most challenging task and the simplest task throughout the day, the answer didn’t come quickly. It took a minute to recover from the surprising inquisition and another minute to contemplate the answer. With cerebral palsy being a part of my life since birth I rarely think about how difficult or easy different tasks are. All physical tasks have always felt challenging. I focus on doing each to the best of my ability and try to perform them better the next time. However, after putting some thought into the questions I came up with a couple answers. Coming up with the physical task I have the easiest time with was pretty simple. Driving a car is probably the simplest physical task I do daily. It’s also one of the most enjoyable things I do during my day. I believe driving is easy because it doesn’t require a lot of physical movement and most of the movements demand large muscle groups. We don’t seem to use many fine motor movements when operating a vehicle. Driving uses major muscles in our legs, shoulders and arms, leaving out the movement of fingers or wrists. For me, cerebral palsy doesn’t require modifications inside the car to give me the ability to drive. It has always been one of the things that causes me to forget about my CP.

Coming up with the most difficult task of the day was more challenging. There are many difficult physical activities each day. The response I came up with was shaving. Pretty much any activity with a blade in my hands would probably be ill advised. A buddy sitting next to me seemed surprised by the answer. His thought was I used an electric raise avoiding the need for a blade. The thinking was right, I do use an electric razor, but only on my face. I’ve found the electric to be difficult when used under my chin. It seems to miss whole areas. So, I use a normal razor under my chin. The combination works well and most mornings I successfully avoid cutting my face.

With all the challenges of cerebral palsy, the disability also provides unique opportunities. Sometimes CP can act as a conversation starter. These interactions provide a platform of sorts. It gives me the chance to explain a little about cerebral palsy. The disability seems to be ambiguous to many people possibly because of its variety of symptomatology. With the disability looking different in nearly everyone who has CP. If I can find the courage to accept the questions without defensiveness, maybe I can open another person to a better understanding of cerebral palsy. They may be able to better explain it to someone else someday. With one conversation, we may be able to broaden awareness of just about anything.







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