Guest Author - Monica J. Foster
Shelley Nixon’s “From Where I Sit: Making My Way With Cerebral Palsy,” published by Scholastic in 1999, is all her words, her heart and her spirit – even though her autobiography was written by dictation. Nixon, you see, has cerebral palsy and is unable to write due to involuntary spasms that make holding a pen or touching a keyboard squarely very difficult. She attended Cabrini College in Radnor, Pennsylvania, studying Human Services with plans to help children with disabilities.
Nixon was born in 1977 three months premature. She remained in the hospital for neonatal care and observation before going home. When she was finally released, her parents were overjoyed to take their new daughter home. However, they soon observed that Nixon wasn’t developing typically like other babies her age. Doctors advised that she improve, but that was not to be Finally, a year later, they were told she had cerebral palsy.
Cerebral Palsy (CP) affects everyone differently. CP in general, is a disorder of movement, muscle tone or posture that caused by injury or abnormal development in the immature brain, most often before or at birth. Signs and symptoms may also be evident during infancy or preschool years, like Nixon as a baby.
Nixon has one of several types of CP, athetoid CP. This type is noted for spasming and involuntary movement that makes movement, hand coordination and fine motor skills difficult to impossible, as well as a speech difficulty. She uses a wheelchair to get around and needs assistance with daily tasks .She has also been through many surgeries. Still she leads a vibrant life with many close friends, graduated college, set and achieved countless goals, and participated in daring activities.
Growing up, she attended public school and youth camps like other children without disabilities. In her book, Nixon shares how people react to her CP and her wheelchair. She also tells about her family’s ups and downs and how she handled the triumphs. Through it all, Nixon proves herself to be a lively woman making her way through a boundless life.
Shelley tells her own adventurer’s story from the heart. Throughout the course of her odyssey through education, she is realizes she is the pioneer student in new programs for students with physical disabilities. In fact, she writes that she is quite the daredevil, stretching herself into physical realms even her able-bodied peers would avoid: topsy-turvy roller coaster rides, parasailing, down-hill skiing. Also, since the age of seven, Shelley has extended herself creatively in words as a writer of letters, poems, essays, prose, and her autobiography. In fact, the book is laced with her poetry.
Besides writing, Nixon enjoys watching movies, people, and music. She likes trying new things and likes to laugh. She is a performer for AbleArts, an interability theater group for people with and without disabilities. Nixon’s struggles with disappointment and her desires for independence and acceptance are universal themes any reader can aptly relate to.
Shelley's story is also chock full of information that should reduce fears readers may have about CP, and helps the reader feel confident interacting with people who have CP and other disabilities. Readers with disabilities will identify with her trials and triumphs, as readers without disabilities will relate well with the theme of living the fullest life possible come what may.