When I was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at eighteen months of age, my family embarked on a whole new world. This strange new place was one where my parents had never been before. “Disability” became part of their everyday vocabulary, as their child had to be taught how to roll over, sit up and crawl. Grief was a given, but what could they do?
Several months later, they had a meeting with a physical therapist. Many surgeries were in my future, as well as braces , wheelchairs, and physical therapy. Lots and lots of physical therapy.
It was in therapy, she said, that I could learn to scoot on my belly, improve my balance, and get up on my knees. All of these things seemed logical to my parents. Then they heard something they thought was totally out of left field.
They were told they needed to intentionally start dropping me on a mattress.
Wouldn’t it be cruel?
How were they supposed to do that on purpose? More importantly, why?
If they consistently dropped me on a mattress, the therapist told them, over time I would instinctively learn how to fall. If I was going to be active at all in my life, I was certainly going to take some tumbles. Since that was the case, I would need to know how to automatically put my hands in front of my face and tuck my chin into my chest. That way, when I fell, I was less likely to get seriously hurt.
So began the habit of my parents dropping me on a mattress. Endless afternoons were spent outside in our yard when they yelled out “hands” and “chin” until I got the idea. After a while, I learned to fall “defensively” in much the same way as some people learn to drive in that manner.
Through the years I have fallen countless times. My balance is shaky and my spasms can be intense. I have had more than my fair share of concussions, cuts, and bruises. But if I had not learned how to fall, I am convinced that some of those injuries would have been far more severe.
Were my parents being cruel when they intentionally dropped me on a mattress? Hardly. They were doing me a great service.
And I don’t have the broken bones to prove it.