Hemiplegia is a form of cerebral palsy caused by damage to the brain usually before or around the time of birth, but sometimes as the result of brain trauma later in childhood or even adulthood. The effects are like a stroke, with a lack of control and weakness down one side of the body – the opposite half to the injured side of the brain. One to two babies are born with hemiplegia every day in the UK and many more acquire the condition later in childhood following a stroke, head trauma, or a viral infection such as meningitis.
But it is not just physical development that may be affected. In fact, most children have additional diagnoses such as epilepsy, visual impairment, speech difficulties, perceptual problems, learning difficulties, emotional and behavioural issues. While these effects may be harder to see, they are often more significant to people with hemiplegia and can impact on confidence, education, employment, friendships and relationships.
Some of you know that my ten-year-old son, Wee Chum, experiences hemiplegia as the result of a near-fatal accident when he was ten weeks old. I won’t go into the details of the accident, as it is distressing for all involved, but what cannot be denied is the effect it has had, and will continue to have, upon his life.
Wee Chum likes video games and playing football, drawing and colouring, and running around the park with other children. He is interesting, insightful, thoughtful and kind, hilarious, feisty and argumentative. He is generally a well-behaved lad, but of course he has his moments where he is a complete pain in the neck. In short, he is just like any other ten-year-old. The only difference between Wee Chum and any other child his age, is the fact that he has hemiplegia.
There are things he finds difficult, of course there are. He faces challenges in his life that non-disabled people wouldn’t even consider when going about their days. He needs help with things that the average ten-year-old would find second nature – tying shoelaces, buttoning jeans and shirts, zipping up coats, for example – and many other things, too many to list here. But he is persistent and innovative, and constantly amazes me with new ways he’s come up with of doing things that just the previous day he had declared ‘impossible’.
I’m telling you this because I want you to know that disabled children are so much more than their disability. Wee Chum doesn’t go about the world as a disabled child, he operates within the world as a child, and most of the time he doesn’t even think about his ‘issues’. He just gets on with it. We had a conversation a few months ago in which he said something so poignant it made me want to cry; “I’m not really different, am I? I’m just like everyone else. I just do lots of things differently to other people – but I still do them, and that’s what’s important.”
I’m also telling you this because there are so many children in the UK and worldwide who experience hemiplegia, for some of whom the effect is far more profound. So I wanted to tell you about HemiHelp. HemiHelp is the UK’s national charity for hemiplegia. The charity’s aim is to support children and young adults with hemiplegia and their families, ensure they are afforded the same opportunities as their non-disabled peers and help them to live life to the full. HemiHelp provides information, supports and runs events for children with hemiplegia and their families, as well as for professionals (medical and educational) involved in their care.
For more information about HemiHelp or to find out more about hemiplegia please visit the charity’s website. If you know me personally, I will have awareness wristbands available for sale in order to raise much-needed funds for them, to support the amazing work they do with children with hemiplegia. If you aren’t local to me, here are some other ways in which you can support this valuable organisation.
If you take nothing else away from this post, even if you forget all about me, and Wee Chum, and what hemiplegia is, please remember my son’s words. He is not his disability. He is not a ‘poor, disabled kid’. He’s a human being in his own right, with the same social rights and duties, with just as much to offer this world as any other human being. Disabled children will grow up to be tomorrow’s disabled adults – adults who contribute to society in their own unique ways, just like the rest of us.