Cerebral palsy is the most common cause of neurological disability among children. However, in time those children grow up and must transition into their adult lives. These are just some of the stages of growth individuals with cerebral palsy will face as they grow.
The first major transition individuals with cerebral palsy will typically face is the move from early intervention programs to preschool or school during early childhood. During this period, children with cerebral palsy may spend time without their parents for the first time.
Children and their families make use of the transition planning services some early intervention centers and school districts offer. These services can help make moving into formal education easier.
Children can also feel more comfortable transitioning to school if trusted friends or early intervention professionals they know attend Individualized Education Program (IEP) planning meetings. Starting preschool or school with other children from their neighborhood can also build confidence.
Attending orientation programs as a family unit can also make transitioning to preschool or other levels of school seem less daunting to a child with cerebral palsy.
Transitioning into adolescence is often difficult, but living with cerebral palsy can make this period even more challenging. However, teens with cerebral palsy can take steps to make this time easier.
Transitioning to the teenage years brings puberty, a time when the bodies of individuals with cerebral palsy undergo significant and often confusing changes. Keeping the lines of communication open between parents and their children can help make this transition easier. Parents should try to tell their teens what to expect ahead of time, so there are no nasty surprises. Conversely, teens should feel comfortable enough to talk to their parents about the physical and emotional changes occurring.
Puberty is also the time when many teens start thinking about forming romantic relationships. However, people with cerebral palsy typically have fewer romantic relationships than their peers without a disability. This is likely to be because many people with the condition feel frustrated, distressed, or angry about their symptoms.
People with cerebral palsy can get past these barriers if they plan for a date ahead of time, then try not to dwell on their disability. Being open to the possibility of a relationship and having fun will also serve singles with cerebral palsy well.
The teen years also see adolescents with cerebral palsy entering high school. This learning environment can be dramatically different from elementary and middle school, but some strategies can make the transition easier. Nerves are normal, but talking to teachers and parents about these feelings can help.
High school typically brings more homework and assignments, which can be challenging for many people with cerebral palsy. Young people struggling with the pressures of high school should speak to their parents and teachers to devise strategies, such as planning to complete work before the deadline, using a diary and creating assignment plans.
Leaving the security of school and moving into adulthood is another key transition for people with cerebral palsy. Securing employment and leaving the family home both pose challenges to adults with cerebral palsy.
It can be disheartening to note that just 20% of people with disabilities are employed in the United States, compared to 80% of people without disabilities, according to most estimates. However with determination, any adult with cerebral palsy can be employed.
Knowing your rights is important. Title I of the American Disabilities Act ensures businesses with 15 or more employees cannot discriminate against people with disabilities. That means that in most cases, you must have the same opportunities to paid employment that people without disabilities do. Employers must also make reasonable concessions to accommodate your physical or mental limitations.
There are a number of resources available to help job seekers with special needs find work. Adults should also be able to find additional employment resources within their community.
Depending upon the severity of their condition, people with cerebral palsy may live on their own or in small group homes. Use of the services offered by occupational therapists, such as performing minor home modifications and providing home aids, during this transition.
Like many adults in the community, many adults with cerebral palsy want to become parents. However, it’s common for these adults to worry about the difficulties that transitioning to parenthood may bring.
For Jason Lieberman, a man with cerebral palsy, becoming a father meant adjusting his expectations about what a parent should do. While he believed that parenting should be a 50-50 partnership, he soon learned that his poor balance and hand-eye coordination made changing diapers and watching his son independently difficult.
However, he notes that focusing on the way his son shows he loves him, rather than his own limitations as a parent, has made his transition to parenthood easier. He also takes pride in watching his son meet milestones that he did not.