The Right Way to Approach someone with cerebral Palsy
It is hard to approach someone with cerebral palsy. It seems even more so if it is the first time you have seen someone like that.
As much as you want to help, sometimes approaching them can make them feel uncomfortable, especially if they are aware of their disability and how they may look to others.
But there are many ways to approach someone with cerebral palsy that can make a huge difference in the way they see themselves, the way others see them, and even how they move.
Here are some tips on how to approach someone with cerebral palsy from people who have cerebral palsy themselves.
In general, someone with cerebral palsy may have trouble with movement, but they are perfectly capable of processing information.
So if you are trying to speak with someone who cerebral palsy, don’t stand above them or place yourself in their line of sight as you might a small child, they can probably see you just fine.
And when meeting someone new who has cerebral palsy, start your conversation as usual by introducing yourself and giving a brief reason for your visit.
For example: Hi, I am Robert from Support Group X. We are here today to talk about how we can help you.
The other person will likely pick up on your cues and respond accordingly.
If not, try saying something like I am sorry if I startled you, I was wondering if we could talk for a few minutes?
Most people with cerebral palsy want to interact with others. It helps them feel more comfortable in social situations.
They will appreciate that you took time out of your day to come say hello!
Don’t offer help unless it is asked for
People with disabilities are not looking for people to pity them.
They are also not looking for a chance to shine.
They just want someone who can see past their disability and treat them like they would anyone else.
This means, if they don’t ask you for help, don’t offer it.
It could very well come across as condescending or rude. Instead, try asking what you can do to be helpful.
You might be surprised by how much they actually appreciate a kind gesture or some random act of kindness (who doesn’t?).
You could take your friendship or relationship to another level by taking a genuine interest in their life and helping out when asked.
And if that does happen, there are ways to best interact with people with disabilities.
Here are 5 tips for making friends with someone with cerebral palsy:
- Listen, 2- Don’t ignore them, 3- Treat them normally, 4- Have patience, 5- Accept any help they need from you without question
Case scenario for example situation:
Person With Disability: Can I get my wallet? Non-Disabled Person: Sure! Let me grab it for you! That’s totally fine, but maybe hold off on running right over? Why? Because before you do anything, remember step one above: listen.
The person may only need a couple bucks or something as simple as showing ID at a store.
Speak to them at eye level
If someone has cerebral palsy, it means they have difficulty moving their limbs and body.
Some of them use wheelchairs while others get around on crutches or canes.
When you are standing in front of a person who has cerebral palsy, try your best to look directly at them when you are talking to them and then look down briefly when you are finished speaking.
Doing so will help make sure they feel more comfortable talking with you by not intimidating them or making them uncomfortable in any way.
Plus, it will show that you respect and value their presence.
Talk about something other than their disability. It is very important sometimes.
It may be hard for some people to talk about anything other than what makes someone unique, but it is important to realize that everyone wants to be treated like everyone else.
While you should definitely talk about how someone with cerebral palsy is different from most people, don’t forget that they are just like everyone else too.
So instead of focusing solely on what makes them unique, try asking questions about what makes them similar to you (e.g., favorite movies/TV shows).
Everyone likes being treated as an individual, but we all also want to be treated as normal human beings too.
There is a fine line between being friendly and hovering. If you see someone struggling, feel free to ask if they need help.
But don’t get too pushy or come across as if you are doing them a favor by offering assistance.
Often times those who struggle with physical impairments have mastered skills that seem impossible for an able-bodied person to master like sitting in an office chair without their arms.
So don’t swoop in and make yourself helpful when it is really not necessary. Instead, offer your help only when asked.
Smile, they can sense it through facial expressions
Many people with cerebral palsy are unable to maintain normal eye contact.
When talking to someone who has cerebral palsy, be sure that you do not look away or at your phone.
This can make a person feel uncomfortable and self-conscious, even though they may be trying their best to communicate.
If you look away or act distracted, you could miss something important that is being said and end up feeling frustrated about communication breakdowns in your relationship.
Make an effort to keep eye contact whenever possible, but if it becomes too difficult for either of you, simply focus on maintaining positive body language.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions: People with cerebral palsy often have difficulty communicating what they want or need.
It is natural to want to jump in and help when you see someone struggling, but it is better to wait until you know what kind of help is needed before acting.
Instead of rushing in, take a moment to observe what exactly is going on and then ask questions like Do you need help? What would make things easier? Is there anything I can do?
Pay attention when responding so that you don’t accidentally say something offensive or hurtful.
Maintain normal eye contact
If you are nervous about approaching someone with cerebral palsy, make sure you maintain normal eye contact.
People with cerebral palsy are typically used to meeting eyes since it is their primary form of communication.
In addition, people with cerebral palsy often avoid eye contact out of fear that others may be judging them.
If a person avoids eye contact and is exhibiting other signs of depression (e.g., lack of interest in activities, loss or gain in weight, etc.), ask yourself if you want to approach them.
Let them know you are concerned about their mental health or emotional well-being and recommend that they speak with a mental health professional/therapist on your campus for support.
Remember, self-advocacy is one of the most important things we can do as people with disabilities, when interacting with someone who has a disability, try to think from their perspective and not from yours. Do what feels right for you.
It is natural to feel uneasy approaching someone with cerebral palsy.
But remember that those with cerebral palsy are just like you, with hopes, dreams, and opinions.
They get lonely too. By making a few small changes in your approach (like remembering they can hear), you can turn what might have been an uncomfortable situation into a positive one.
And even if they are not interested in talking or don’t want any help, at least you know that you did everything possible to reach out and that counts for something.
After all, these people may be fighting every day to simply exist in a world that doesn’t always make room for them.
So do them a favor, smile and say hello. The worst thing that could happen is they tell you to go away but really, isn’t it worth it?
Finally, I would like to say that this blog post should help give you some ideas on how to go about doing so. Good luck.