Twice in the past couple of weeks––once at a CP-Net Stakeholders meeting and at the OFCP Annual General Meeting–my attention has been drawn to “The Six F-words for CP:” function, family, fitness, fun and future.
At first, I admit, that these sounded like a too obvious and overly simplified solution in the struggle to find a realistic and helpful approach to life with CP. But I was nonetheless intrigued, and aware that I may be too cynical towards such things.
The review article, “The F-words in childhood disability: I swear this is how we should think!” written by Peter Rosenbaum, from the CanChild Centre for Childhood Disability Research at MacMaster University, and Jan Willem Gorter, from NetChild Network for Childhood Disability Research in the Netherlands, was provided in my OFCP AGM package. I thought why not give it a read?
And I was pleasantly surprised. While I still believe this approach is a bit obvious, I appreciate that it, although published in September 2011, is gaining traction within the research and treatment community.
While I invite you to read this article for yourself, there are some key, exciting, points of revelation worth mentioning:
First, the traditional medical model of diagnosing and “fixing” doesn’t work with CP. Put simply, CP is too complex and affects each of us differently, even, for example, two people who technically have the same type of CP. Thus, there is no shortlist of go-to treatments, no cure-all. Not to mention that results are often only small and gradual after persistent, sometimes lifelong, treatment. Our quality of life can be improved but we cannot be fixed. At this point, such an absolute goal will only lead to frustration and disappointment.
Second, one does not need to do something, such as walk or talk, normally in order to be functional. Conventional development is a reasonable guide but by no means the only way of doing things. I often explain, to people who inquire about my limitations, that I can do everything an able-bodied person can do, just maybe in a different way. Just as someone else may wear glasses to see, I use canes to walk. What’s important is that children with CP be given the opportunity, and assisted as necessary, to learn how to function to the best of their ability in a way that works for them. Fine-tuning their performance of these functions will naturally over time.
Third, treatment and counselling should include not only the child with a disability but their family as well. Explaining the child’s condition and treatments––and making sure they understand––can help parents, grandparents and/or siblings make peace with this new reality and move forward to a happy and fulfilling life for all. This could mean helping with exercises, finding accessible activities for the whole family to do together, or learning how and when to advocate for the child.throughout their lives. When complicated on my ingenuity in accommodating a task, I often point out that others could probably do the same if it was necessary.
Fourth, fitness and fun can be grouped together in that it is important for a person with CP to be given the opportunity to discover activities they enjoy, just like anyone else. Then, similar to function, figure out how it may need to be accommodated to their abilities.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, people with disabilities have a future, just like you. Service providers should make this clear right from the start, and keep it in mind throughout their relationship with the child and their family. This could be a future full of friends, education, goals, dreams, and even romance.