Cerebral palsy can have its impact on different parts of the body. Sometimes only the upper half or lower half. Other times the disability might influence only the left or right side. In my case, cerebral palsy has an impact on my entire body. The left side is more impaired, but cerebral palsy can be felt everywhere. Because of the disability, muscle control has been challenging throughout life. One of the most frustrating places that challenge can be felt is in my hands. The ability to fully control our fingers is something most might overlook. In my life, it feels like finger control pops up in most every physical task. We use our ability to grip an object on a minute by minute basis. Without thinking about the different types of pressure required to accurately execute the grip. For most people who are typically developed. My guess would be, when grabbing a hold of something. There isn’t much thought about the pressure involved with the grip. You are most likely to reach out and grasp something without thinking. Whether your brain knows because the object has been held prior. Or, the brain can recall back to something similar, and relay that information to your fingers. I never really had the ability to fully grasp science. So, these are just my guesses from rudimentary knowledge. All that being said, the pathway from my brain to the hands and fingers, doesn’t work in that manner. Meaning the connection needs to be worked with to function more productively.
We added a new tool to help with this grip challenge. The tennis ball would prove to create an important step. Brought about because of my interest in taking up tennis again. Bernard had me bring in an extra tennis ball to keep in our draw of goodies. He went right to work having me bounce the ball and catch it using only my left hand. The same thing I had done with the lacrosse ball preciously. The shocking part of this process was the different weight of the tennis ball, making it more challenging. The lightness of it meant my death grip grasp wasn’t going to work. I would be required to find a gentler way to use my fingers. We went to work practicing the concept of lightness. My fingers had to close around the tennis ball with less tension. Learning quickly that the added finger tension caused the ball to pop out of my grasp. The only way to learn would be through trial and error. Working on the connection from by brain to my fingers. Teaching it how to close my fingers more gently when required. We knew it could be done because I was catching some of the bounces. For a couple of weeks, we worked on bouncing and catching the tennis ball with lefty. Doing three sets of the bounce and catch, once per week. Each set would consist of doing the bouncing with my left hand for a two-minute period. After becoming proficient to the expectation of Bernard. He moved on to making the task more challenging.
We walked into the exercise class room with two balls. The bouncing would take place with both the tennis and lacrosse balls. Each ball having different weights. The variety asking for more control of my fingers. They needed to be gentler to secure the tennis ball catch. While, the lacrosse ball could still be caught with a death grip. Grasping the lacrosse ball without being concerned with the finger tension. To begin this movement, Bernard handed me the lacrosse ball first. Explaining we were going to do ten bounces with the left. If a catch was missed, it didn’t count toward the ten. Once ten with the lacrosse ball was achieved, we would use the tennis ball for the same. Then, move on to right hand bounces with both balls. With cerebral palsy having the greatest impact on my left hand, lefty would be most challenging. As we got the first attempt moving, the lacrosse ball went smoothly. Following so much lacrosse ball work over the years. There was great familiarity with bouncing the lacrosse ball on both sides. The challenge really began when the tennis ball was handed over. During the first set of bouncing the tennis ball with my left hand, the catch was fumbled multiple times. The difference in how my fingers were required to react felt large. I really needed to concentrate on closing the fingers gently. Without the focus on my fingers, the tennis ball was popping out of my hand, due to the finger pressure. As the tennis ball was bounced against the wooded floor. I immediately thought “be gentle” when turning over my hand to make the catch. When the tennis ball hit my palm, I had to focus on closing my hand softly.
Bouncing the tennis ball after the lacrosse ball felt irritating to begin. It was challenging to understand why the finger adjustment was so hard. There was an expectation that catching the tennis ball wouldn’t demand that much focus. Doing the exercise this way became a great tool for understanding. The impact of cerebral palsy on my finger control was made clearer. However, as the rounds of bouncing continued. The ability to improve this finger struggle was also made clear. The adjustment was better executed each time the tennis ball was in my grasp. My hand began to understand how to handle the balls differently. Finally, achieving success in the final round. When both the lacrosse and tennis balls were bounced ten consecutive times. Being successfully caught each time by lefty. The success of learning the ball bouncing process translated to life outside. Though things like use of using the hands seems challenging to quantify. It showed up during a recent trip to the driving range. When hitting golf balls, I had the ability to tinker with grip pressure. Working on my ability to grip the golf club more lightly. The switching of the ball when bouncing and catching. Allowing me to gain confidence in the lightening of finger pressure. Taking that skill to the golf club, helps me swing more freely. Resulting in improved striking of the golf balls. Just one way our work in the gym translates into improving cerebral palsy in my world.