My daughter, Oluwalonimi was diagnosed of cerebral palsy at eight months. Cerebral palsy is a neurological disorder that is caused by damage to some part of the brain which controls the muscles. This damage may occur before birth, during birth or the first few years of a child’s life.
In Oluwalonimi’s case, when I was pregnant with her, I had pre-eclampsia which is a pregnancy disorder characterized by high blood pressure, swelling of hands and legs and a significant amount of protein in the urine. The result of this was that Nimi was born some weeks earlier than her due date and she also had very low birth weight. She had jaundice and suffered apnea (which is a sleep disorder) while in the neo natal unit.
At four months she was unable to hold her head upright as she should at that age. At eight months after several tests were conducted she was diagnosed with cerebral palsy.
After my husband and I received Nimi’s diagnosis, we were told she may never be able to talk, walk, or even reason like other children. We were devastated. However, we were encouraged by one of her therapist to enroll her into school at the age of 2.
When Nimi started schooling, she didn’t give us any indication that she could learn, but we kept her in school with her peers.
In 2016, she was physically assaulted by her physiotherapist, so we got really scared for her wellbeing and we decided to care for her at home.
Then Tobiloba Ajayi, a disability advocate (she is also living with cerebral palsy) and the founder of LetCpKids Learn Initiative encouraged my husband and I to let her go back to school. She said we couldn’t hide her at home forever. Nimi had to learn independence.
I found a school near the house. The proprietress, teachers and pupils were welcoming. The first day Nimi got to school, the kids in her class gave her a welcome card.
Today, I am glad Nimi is in school. She is doing so well; she knows her numbers and she can read them backwards (from 100 -1), her alphabet sounds, addition, subtraction. She has started learning how to read. She answers questions in class. Nimi even takes part in extra curriculum activities. It doesn’t matter that she doesn’t do it as well as other kids. Even if she is just part of the cheerleaders. It is inclusive education in the true sense of it and I see the benefits in Nimi every day.
Apart from Nimi having cerebral palsy and doing lots of therapy, she is just like any other kid, she loves to watch TV, play football, swim, eat spaghetti. Her best snack is cake and she drinks a lot of water.
If my husband and I had assumed that Nimi was unable to learn and didn’t educate her, we would never have realized her potentials. The fact that a child has cerebral palsy doesn’t necessarily mean that the child has intellectual disability. Even if the child cannot talk or use his or her hands, the child can still learn.
Nimi still has her therapies, she has not stopped but she also gets an education. We are not waiting for her to start walking or start using her hands or for her speech to be very audible.
If a school did not give Nimi the opportunity to learn, she may still be at home today, losing out on the benefits of going to a mainstream school with her peers.
I want to encourage school owners to embrace inclusive education. It is a great opportunity for every child.
I want to implore everyone to change their thinking about children who have neurological disorders such as cerebral palsy, autism, down syndrome, and others. These are all medical conditions and not the aftermath of sin or witchcraft.
These children did not ask to be born this way. The least we can do is to show them love.
I have written some books to teach children about other children who are different from them in relation to disability. My hope is that this will change the narrative about disability in Nigeria.
Let’s Love Without Boundaries!
Watch a short documentary on Oluwalonimi, and the benefits of inclusive education here: