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Empowering Voices: Cerebral Palsy Awareness Month and AAC

March marks a significant period in the calendar as it is dedicated to raising awareness about cerebral palsy (CP), a neurological condition affecting movement, coordination, muscle tone, and posture. It is a time to shed light on the challenges faced by individuals with cerebral palsy and recognize their strengths, resilience, and unique abilities.


Amidst the observance of Cerebral Palsy Awareness Month, it is essential to spotlight the role of AAC in empowering those with cerebral palsy to communicate effectively and actively participate in society.


Cerebral palsy is a diverse group of disorders affecting movement and muscle coordination (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, n.d.).

  • It is caused by damage to the developing brain, often occurring before birth, during childbirth, or shortly after. The severity and symptoms of cerebral palsy vary widely among individuals, with some experiencing mild motor impairments while others face significant challenges with mobility, communication, and daily activities.


Did you know?

  • More than 17 million people in the world have cerebral palsy;

  • Cerebral palsy is the most common lifelong motor disability;

  • The number of people who have cerebral palsy is expected to grow;

  • More than one third of those with cerebral palsy have speech and language disorders (Cerebral Palsy Foundation, n.d.-a; n.d.-b).


Communication is a fundamental human right, yet for one in five individuals with cerebral palsy, verbal communication may be limited or impossible due to speech impairments (Cerebral Palsy Foundation, n.d.-c).

  • Therefore, AAC is a vital tool for those with cerebral palsy. From light-tech options like core boards and communication books to electronic tools such as dedicated speech-generating devices and specialized apps, AAC offers a means for individuals with cerebral palsy to engage and interact in their environment.


For individuals with cerebral palsy, AAC serves as a bridge, breaking barriers to communication and facilitating social interaction, education, employment opportunities, and independence. It enables them to express their thoughts, needs, and emotions, and therefore fostering connections with others and promoting inclusivity.

  • AAC also plays a crucial role in educational settings, empowering learners with cerebral palsy to participate actively in learning activities and engage with their peers and teachers.


While AAC holds limitless potential, it is not without its challenges. Access to appropriate AAC assessment, funding for devices, and ongoing support are crucial factors in ensuring effective AAC implementation for individuals with cerebral palsy.


There is a need for greater awareness and understanding of AAC among caregivers, educators, and the broader society to create environments and perspectives that embrace and authentically include individuals who use a variety of communication tools and strategies.


It is important to recognize and acknowledge that each person who has a disability has varying levels of highest potential. It cannot be assumed that one person with cerebral palsy can achieve what another person with cerebral palsy can achieve.

  • The nature of the individual’s disability must be honestly evaluated and taken into consideration when setting expectations for clients who professionals support, children who parents raise, and employees with cerebral palsy who use AAC that employers hire.


People who use AAC, and especially those who have a visible physical disability such as cerebral palsy, must go above and beyond to “prove” themselves as capable, intelligent, and worthy of meaningful employment due to the preconceived notions that people have regarding people with disabilities simply based on the presence of a disability.

  • Parents and professionals having high yet realistic expectations for those with cerebral palsy and ensuring that they have high yet realistic expectations for themselves sets them up to be successful and contributing members of society as they grow into adulthood.


Treat and interact with people who have cerebral palsy just like you treat and interact with people who do not have cerebral palsy. Treat them as normal humans...because they are. AAC and their diagnoses do not define who someone is. They are people who use AAC as a tool to communicate.


Cerebral Palsy Awareness Month serves as a platform to advocate for the rights and inclusion of individuals with cerebral palsy. It is an opportunity to amplify their voices and raise awareness about the importance of authentic inclusion and access to AAC.

  • By fostering acceptance, understanding, equitable opportunities, and authentic inclusion, individuals with cerebral palsy are empowered to lead fulfilling lives and contribute meaningfully to society.


As we observe Cerebral Palsy Awareness Month, you are encouraged to commit to supporting initiatives that promote AAC awareness and inclusivity of individuals who have cerebral palsy.

  • Whether it is advocating for policy changes, volunteering with organizations serving individuals with cerebral palsy, or simply spreading knowledge and understanding in communities, everyone has the power to enhance the opportunities and lives of individuals with cerebral palsy.


Cerebral Palsy Awareness Month serves as a poignant reminder of the strength, resilience, and potential of individuals with cerebral palsy. By performing self-reflection on mindsets and practices, society can break down barriers, foster inclusion, and empower individuals with cerebral palsy to lead active and fulfilling lives.


References

Hannah Foley, B.A. serves as the Support and Implementation Specialist at Forbes AAC, leveraging more than five years of experience in AAC support and implementation. Committed to delivering quality implementation resources and support, Hannah focuses on empowering AAC teams who are implementing CoughDrop. She is dedicated to ensuring successful integration of AAC into various life activities, maximizing communicative skill development, and fostering meaningful engagement for individuals utilizing AAC.

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