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My Social Life with Cerebral Palsy

Even though we lack the structures for children and adults with different abilities to interact with others without disabilities, it does not make it impossible to get to know each other.

This conversation began with my friend when she wrote an article on dating for persons with disabilities. It is a controversial discussion in our society rather assumed and culturally stereotyped. She posed the question, Would you date a person with a  disability? Cautioning readers to think twice about their answers. We had discussed this many times before like a puzzle to be solved. 

She asked me, How is my dating life? Is it difficult? Yes, sometimes it is and no, it does not have to be. I have had a fair share of dating  experiences and interesting relationships always encountered by the realities of our societies and culture. My dating life is fun just like any one in their 20s; discovery with a couple of flings and escapades and its own share of complications. In my upbringing, I was always allowed to open up, play my part and put myself out there. I remember being cheeky in primary school, when I had a new crush every month and it was never rebuked or shamed. However, when I came of age, I realized that it was far more complicated and blindsided by stereotypes and prejudices. The reality being that our society thinks persons with disabilities don't feel, can’t date, can’t admire and be admired. Our social and love life is much of a theory which we only whisper about. 

Social life does begin with socialization with/for everyone. For socialization, Interaction must be made possible. Unfortunately, the society or the persons with disabilities don’t get exposed to this kind of interaction and relation. Social interaction is the foundation of all social structures. Interactions allow us to know each other, whether a mother and father getting acquainted to their new-born, siblings getting  to know each other, friends learning and colleagues complimenting others. We unconsciously and consciously interact with other individuals many times in every single day since we are born. Social interaction also becomes sustainable by the frequency which begets familiarity. 

A later conversation with a sister about an adult brother with a neurodiverse condition, her voice startled in panic -- what will happen to my brother when my parents and myself are no longer there? Where will he live and with whom?  Will he have friends or families of his own? Will he be okay? Genuine questions which are so real for parents, caregivers of adults with disabilities and the adult themselves -- what will be next? 

For any parent, once your child is born, you start planning for their future. You imagine their journey through baby school to high school to university to workplace. You picture them playing in the estate, sneaking in and out of the house in rebellion or adventure, taking a driving test, going partying till dawn. You gaze at the life moments - the firsts, when they move out, they bring a girl/guy for introductions, the wedding, their children, the life they have made for themselves. What if that is not the case? It is very different for children with disabilities and their parents walk a completely different unrealistic realistic journey.  

We need to clarify something - some children with different impairments will grow to be adults who are fully dependent on their caregivers for the rest of their lives, others will achieve semi-dependence and achieve some of their milestones. And others will attain their independence and troop into the world. However, how will their social life be whichever level they are?  

We may argue that persons with disabilities were never exposed to society, we never got a chance to interact and get to know each other. We may also say, we have nothing in common, didn't go to the same schools, camps, parties or places of worship. At the end of the day, everyone needs somebody. Whether a friend, a lover, a business partner, a partner in crime, a wife/husband, or a whole community that knows him/her. 

Simply, social life comes down to a person having those vibrant and meaningful relationships who enjoy life and everything the world with you.  Even though we lack the structures for children and adults with disability to interact with other children and adults without, does not make it impossible. We just need to get to know each other. 

Maria Njeri

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