A couple of weeks ago, I blogged about someone mistaking my disability for drunkenness. I was dead sober at the time, though I understand to a certain extent why someone would mistake my limp for intoxication. My legs are different lengths as a result of corrective surgery and I overcompensate in my gait. I’ve been told that I wobble a bit.
I met with an orthotist yesterday and she explained to me more clearly why this stranger thought I was drunk. Alcohol affects the brain in such a way that it causes people to walk with what is called an ataxic gait. This made perfect sense to me; there is a form of cerebral palsy called ataxia (or ataxic cerebral palsy) though the form I have is called spastic. She said that there is similarity in the ataxia of drunkenness to the ataxia present in people who have cerebral palsy. Though it didn’t necessarily make me feel better about being mistaken for a drunk (especially when I hadn’t had anything to drink at all), it helped me understand what an untrained and medically inexperienced person might see present in my body and gait.
The orthotist told me I can reduce the visibility of my disability in my walk if I strengthen my left ankle and the toes of my left foot, improving the way in which my foot hits the ground. This will not only reduce any clunking, but help normalize the pattern with which I lift my foot and then place it back down as I walk. She relayed specifics to my physiotherapist and my therapy will include that particular focus from hereon in. She recommended that I suspend my discomfort with having my feet massaged and allow the therapists with whom I work to give me regular – and precise – foot massages to increase the flexibility and mobility I am missing. This will further help normalize my gait.
She said that I am doing very well – better than most people she sees who have cerebral palsy – and that my athletic and neuro-rehabilitative approach to therapy is working. She could see several problems with my body and gait that have been present all my life – reduced mobility in my left leg, tight hamstrings, and near-complete reliance on my right foot when walking – but she encouraged me to continue with my therapy and believed that I could better myself with the right training and commitment.