Tuesday, December 29, 2009

7 Questions For...a college student with cerebral palsy

An amazing woman named Erin Breedlove recently found this blog, for which I am grateful. She's a college student with cerebral palsy who's studying to be a musical therapist and has a blog, Empowering People And Changing Lives. As Erin writes, "Though my CP is mild, I feel the social effects of it almost daily. Everything from the stares by ignorant people in the aisle of the grocery store to the frustrations of being nineteen years old and unable to drive as of right now seems to get to me.... I know, though, that I am blessed." Erin's supersmart, funny, enthusiastic and really inspirational. See for yourself!

How old were you when you were diagnosed with cerebral palsy?
I was diagnosed at 14 months of age, but the injury that caused it was congenital. The complete cause is still unknown, but the considerable factors are that I was born as "Twin A" and at 26 weeks gestation. At birth, I suffered a brain hemorrhage with a "grade 4+" bleed, which means that I was losing more blood from my brain than my body was equipped to handle at the time. In addition to cerebral palsy, I was diagnosed with hydrocephalus, which is an excess of cerebrospinal fluid on the brain. My parents, my doctors, and I all believe that both injuries are connected; however, they are two separate injuries that result in two separate conditions. "Twin B," Caitlin, is absolutely fine; she's s a broadcast journalism major at the University of Georgia.

What prognosis were your parents given?
My parents were told that I would never walk, talk, read, write, or drive. The doctors didn't expect any sort of functionality out of me. In fact, I began proving them wrong when I was two years old and could spell my name. When I was four and a half, my doctor was "breaking the news" to my parents that I would have to be placed in a wheelchair. Not even a year later, I took my first step. Since then, I have graduated high school with a 3.91 GPA and gone to college. The only thing that hasn't come for me yet, but will very, very soon, is driving.

Growing up, which therapy was most helpful to you, and why?
The 15 years of physical therapy that I have gone through due to its rigor and its nature of strengthening muscles that are necessary for many vital life skills. The therapist that taught me to walk is my angel. She worked with me from the time I was two months old until I was five-and-a-half to ensure that I could walk. Physical therapy's main focus for me, as with many others with cerebral palsy, was to strengthen my "big" muscles (i.e. the muscles that you use to walk, play, and climb, such as your hamstrings and your hips). I find myself applying the skills that I learned in physical therapy as a young child on a day-to-day, and sometimes even hourly, basis. For instance, when I put on my clothes, the stretching and the coordination involved are possible due to the exercises and the many years of therapy to which I committed myself.

What's been the biggest challenge for you?
That's a really tough question. In a broad sense, the biggest challenge, and the one I've faced for my entire life, has been dispelling the stereotypes that people have regarding people with cerebral palsy and disabilities in general. Simply because I "walk funny" doesn't mean that I can't achieve my dreams. Simply because I sometimes have a hard time with the physical act of handwriting doesn't mean I can't type 85 words per minute with one hand!

In a narrow sense, one of the hardest things that I have had to learn has been washing my hair with one hand. I'm female, and fortunately, but unfortunately, I have a thick head of hair, so it has been difficult. However, just as with anything, with practice, persistence, determination, and willpower, anything is possible!

Why did you decide to become a music therapist?
Music therapy combines all three disciplines in which I've seen myself at various points in my life: a healthcare professional of advanced degree, a music teacher, and a special education teacher. It will give me the opportunity to become a healthcare professional and will give me the opportunity to obtain knowledge from a medical, musical, and special education perspective. One of my mentors, David Knott, leads a session in a Youtube video that inspired my final decision. You can also read more about my inspiration on my blog.

Music therapists are certified by the American Music Therapy Association. Thus, I will complete my undergraduate degree in music therapy, which will include both courses that are therapy-intensive and those that are music-intensive. Those that are therapy-intensive study the methods and practices of music therapy such as the characteristics of certain impairments and the ways in which music therapy can best serve those populations.

The music-intensive courses are no different than those that a music major must take. They include courses in music theory, in certain instruments and the methods used to learn and play those instruments so that a student may gain proficiency, and music history.

The "methods" courses will be tough for me, but there have been some modifications made for me in those areas. The methods courses consist of courses in stringed instruments, in brass instruments, in percussion instruments, and in using the voice as an instrument. Music therapy majors are required to have three of the four methods courses. Since voice is my primary instrument, I will take the vocal methods course. I will also take the percussion course, but instead of taking the brass and strings courses, i will take seven semesters of a mixture of sign language and a nice hodgepodge of things that will benefit me in my therapy career such as psychology courses and special education courses.

There is also a requirement of guitar proficiency, as stated by our certifying board. Thus, the music therapy department will be teaching me, despite all of my dexterity issues, to play the guitar! I am more than excited, and I plan to post videos of the experience to my blog quite often!

Upon completion of my coursework, I am required to spend 1,080 hours in an internship with a board certified music therapist, as stated, yet again, by our certifying board. I'm already looking into internships in Illinois, Ohio, New York, Georgia, and Tennessee. At the termination of my internship, I will move on to take the certification test. Then, I hope to become "Erin Breedlove, MT-BC (Music Therapist-Board Certified)" and begin my Master's program, while working as a Graduate Assistant for my school. After practicing for a few years, I hope to attend Florida State University to obtain my PhD in Music Therapy, largely influenced by my current adviser, mentor, and dear friend.

What kinds of things do you love doing in your spare time?
As a college student, I'm inclined to say, "Spare time? What's that?" In all honesty, though, in the spare time that I do have, I absolutely love to blog. I've just found a sense of community within the blogosphere, and it has really shown me that I can exercise another of my passions, which is creative writing, while educating others regarding an issue that is so near and dear to my heart.

In my spare time, I also work with individuals with special needs in a variety of volunteer settings. Mostly, now, however, it has been in the music therapy and related settings, but I have worked with these special people for seven and a half years, and it has been the best seven and a half years my life has ever seen!

I'm also the president of our organization for disability advocacy on campus in which I am responsible for coordinating awareness activities to educate the campus community in terms of the lives of people affected by disability and the issues facing the disability community.

What's the most important advice you'd give to a parent of a special-needs child?
Never, ever lose faith or give up hope in your child and/or his/her abilities. The going may get tough, and the hope may run short, but your child can sense whether or not you support them, no matter the age. Don't let yourself use the words "You can't" or "You're different" when around your child. Sure, there may be things that they cannot do, and you may know them from a medical standpoint, but let me assure you, friends, that miracles happen each and every day. Frankly, as one of my dear friends says, "What is normal, anyway?"

Your child can sense your support, and there is an endless stroke of gratitude in them when they become independent adults for the times that you didn't lose faith and the times that you encouraged them to be all that they could, despite the limitations that they may have had and the challenges that they may have faced.


  1. What a wonderful interview with a wonderful person. Thank you! My Sophie has always blossomed with music therapy, so it holds a very special place in our heart. Good luck to you!

  2. Thank you so much, Ellen, for posting and allowing the interview!

    Elizabeth, I'm so excited to hear of Sophie's successes in music therapy!

  3. You are an inspiration. Congratulations on all you have achieved!

  4. Thank you so much for sharing, it is lovely to see such success:) Jen

  5. Thanks for posting this interview with a bright, articulate, strong young lady who happens to have CP. What a beautiful story she has! I will definitely have to check out her blog.

    I am thankful for the advice that she gives parents. I needed that reminder not to get caught up in what I am told or even what I see right now, but to hope for and believe in great things to come!

  6. Love this post. Thank you.

  7. Ellen and Erin, thank you both so much for sharing. This one is going into my collection of stories about successful people who just so happen to have CP, which I started for Daniel shortly after he was diagnosed.

  8. WOW! SO cooooool! Loved this interview. It is so great to hear from a young lady who has come out of childhood and has taken on such a wonderful pursuit in life!

  9. Excellent interview. Nice, healthy, helpful advice. I love hearing the perspective of a young adult with CP. Thanks to both of you, Ellen and Erin.

  10. Thank you for sharing this interview. I love to hear about people who have overcome adversity!

  11. Erin & Ellen, I am so inspired! I'm the mother of a non-verbal 5 year old with apraxia.

  12. I'll be bookmarking Erin's blog. Music therapy is a resource that isn't available in many places, unfortunately, but I have always thought that music and art are classes that bring out so much in kids of all skill/capability levels.

  13. Fantastic! Sounds like you are you a hemiplegia? I'm going to look into music therapy for Darsie. She loves music so I'm sure she would thrive with it. Thank you for sharing!!

  14. Great post! So awesome to see young adults with cerebral palsy pursuing their dreams. Yay!

  15. Thanks for this interview. It is great to hear about young people going into careers to help those like themselves. What an encouragement this is for young people to know they aren't alone and that others are successful.

  16. Thank you all for the beautiful comments, and I do hope that you'll come join me at my blog so that we can empower people and change lives together!

  17. What a great post for me to read just one hour before 2010 arrives. I'm am hopeful and inspired. Thank you so much for this...it is awesome to see a young adult with CP doing such great things.

  18. Excellent post.

    You go girl!! Prove the world wrong and show them you can do anything you put your mind to:) Good luck in all you do.

  19. you're an inspiration


Thanks for sharing!