The Benefits of Personal Writing for Children with Cerebral Palsy
By Drew Dillard
As so many have learned first-hand, writing is one of the greatest tools for healing and personal growth we have. From an early age, children of all abilities need to be shown different ways to process and express their feelings, fears, hopes and triumphs. Personal writing, whether done in a private journal, a public blog or some combination of both, provides a valuable outlet for children with cerebral palsy to grow, express and heal.
The Benefits of Personal Writing
From the moment we sense they might grasp the concept, we begin teaching young children to write because we understand what an important tool it is to functioning as a human being. We know what an important discipline it is to brain development and communication.
Journal writing, the process of recording one’s personal thoughts and feelings, can help your child process difficult feelings, develop coping skills and solve personal issues. It helps a child purge negative feelings and emotions and gives them a much-needed tool they can use to process the unforeseen circumstances and inevitable confusions we all face.
As with anything, the most effective way to teach “journaling” to a young child is by interactive modeling. At a consistent time each day when you think your child might be most focused, spend a little time reviewing recent activities by talking about them, reviewing photographs and drawing pictures. Write at least some of it down (or type it) and read aloud as you write. Let your child participate and provide feedback about what he or she thought was important about that day. Save the results in a notebook or on a computer page so they begin to grasp the lineage and evolution of events. Encourage them to draw pictures of not only what they did (playing in the park, a visit to the doctor), but also how they felt about it. It may be as simple as a smiley face or a frowny face.
Stimulating the Mind
As they develop the ability to write on their own, keep this practice up. Have them add at least one written line to each daily entry. You may want to prompt them with topics or questions you feel pertinent to the experience. But if they prefer their own tangent, let them go with it. After all, it’s their mind we’re trying to unlock. You may have introduced journaling as a simple documentation of a day’s activities, but with a little direction a child can foster the ability to process thoughts and feelings, work through problems, develop intuition and gain insight. It’s a tool that will benefit them for the rest of their lives.
Once a child can write longer pieces, whether manually, electronically or with the help of adaptive equipment, suggest exercises aimed at broadening perspective such as writing “a letter to your future self,” or “writing dialogue by assuming the role of the other person.”
Blogging started in the 1990’s with the advent of internet publishing tools, but really took off in the mid-2000’s with the popularity of MySpace. As of October 2012 there were around 77 million Tumblr and 56.6 million WordPress blogs. Today, Blogger, owned and operated by Google, is the world’s most popular blogging site.
People maintain blogs for many reasons, but mothers blogging about the trials and tribulations of raising children seems particularly prevalent. There’s a good reason for that. Blogging allows parents a space to vent and process feelings; to share and communicate with other parents, finding answers to tough questions and fostering a support network. If the parent of a special needs kid isn’t writing their own blog, chances are they are at least monitoring others to help gain insight and perspective on what is often a difficult journey.
If you are blogging about your special needs kid and you haven’t done so already, let them do the occasional guest spot. You don’t have to share every second of your blogging with them (and probably shouldn’t), but let them understand what it is you’re doing and why it’s important to you. If they seem interested, maybe start a separate co-blog with them.
As they get older they may want to maintain a blog of their own. There are many worthy blogs written by tweens and teens about their personal experiences with cerebral palsy. Recent studies have shown that adolescents blog to maintain friendships and engage in positive discussions of everyday teenage life. For young people whose physical limitations hinder their being out in the world as often as others, blogging is a great way for to them to feel less alone and more connected.
It should go without saying, but before your child is allowed to be on the internet, especially unsupervised, establish a firm set of rules and guidelines. Filters can be installed on computers that will block some, but never all, access to dangerous internet content. Subscribe to an ISP (Internet Service Provider) that offers parental controls, and use them. You can also install software that will filter what your teen can post online, obstructing personal information such as phone numbers.
Regarding content of your child’s blog, obviously there is no litmus test for what should be shared with the world and what should be kept to the confines of one’s personal journal. As a parent and guardian of a young person, it is your responsibility to be the gatekeeper of what you believe acceptable for your child to “publish.”
My personal feeling is that pen to paper is the most effective way to connect with your inner self, but this does not always come easy to children with mobility issues who may benefit from electronic alternatives.
It seems that a day doesn’t go by without the announcement of some new piece of must-have digital technology. Children with cerebral palsy have not been left out of this revolution. Children with communication difficulties, whether purely physical or a combination of physical and intellectual, have so many more tools available to them than kids of even 10 years ago. Specially designed laptops and tablets allow for computer access almost anywhere. From adaptive keyboards to voice-synthesizer software, a child who struggles to communicate clearly, or even speak at all, can be understood by others.
Through journaling, a child with cerebral palsy will discover an all-accepting, nonjudgmental friend and some of the best (and cheapest!) therapy they will ever get.
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