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Children with disabilities ‘As happy as classmates’

The Independent, 30th June 2007
By Jeremy Laurance, Health Editor

Sorrow and pity are natural responses to disability in children – but they are misplaced, researchers say.

There is no need to feel sad about youngsters with cerebral palsy because they experience life much as other children do – with all its joys and sadnesses, successes and failures.

Able-bodied adults tend to view such children in terms of the struggle they face and their lost potential for a full and active life. But that is not how the children see themselves, according to researchers from Newcastle University.

A study of 500 children with cerebral palsy in seven European countries has found that across a range of measures, including psychological wellbeing, self-perception and social support, their levels of satisfaction are as high as in other children.

Though disadvantaged, in some cases seriously, their impairment is incorporated into their sense of themselves from birth and they embrace life and all it has to offer with the same excitement as other children.

Professor Allan Colver of Newcastle University, who led the study, published in The Lancet, said it contained an important message for parents. “Parents can be upset when their child is diagnosed with cerebral palsy but they can now be reassured that most children with the condition who are capable of providing information at the age of eight to 12 have a similar quality of life to other children.”

In earlier research, he had shown that disabled children participated less in activities than other children, because of the restrictions imposed by their disability. But they were no less happy. The new study showed their quality of life, as reported by themselves, was no different. “A father came up to me after we reported the results and said, ‘You have already made me think differently about my child’,” Professor Colver said.

The findings reinforced the need for disabled children to be integrated into society, he added. “The change now needed concerns attitudes. Pity and sorrow should not be directed to disabled children because our findings indicate that they experience life as do non-disabled children. Maximum effort is needed to ensure their rights as citizens, rather than as disabled children, to participate in society as fully as other children.”

Julie Johnson of Gateshead whose 10-year-old son, Nathan, was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at four months, said: “I treat Nathan and his brother the same and I have found that both of them rise to their own challenges. Nathan has problems with his left hand but quite simple steps have enabled him to attend a mainstream school. He is an active, happy child.”

Nathan said: “I like all my teachers and I have a big group of friends at school. I have a special board which helps me to write neater. At playtime we play tag and football.”

Category: General Ramblings

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Comments (3)

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  1. sunil says:

    Its really good to know that these child enjoy happiness as well. I must say the pictures you’ve got here are really touching.

    Be Well!

    Sunil Dua

    Institute of Child Development

  2. Andrew Brereton says:

    Hi Great blog. however on the subject; – if professor Colver had included my son in his research and many other children I know, he might have come out with different conclusions regarding their level of happiness. Interesting subject though and nicely covered. YI hope you can visit my blog at you will be most welcome to comment there as I have done here.
    All the best.

  3. Steve says:

    Got to be honest here and doubt the accuracy of research – my son ‘loves’ sport but has given up in many respects – at the age of 10! Reality bites hard – and believe me – we try to incorporate him in ‘everything’. Problem is – he like many other children with CP are simply ‘trapped’ in a body that doesnt work – whilst his mind does. Good effort – but please dont make generalised statements – as is so oftwn the case with research – it also depends on severity of disability and many, many other factors steve

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