MINOT, ND (KXNET) — “I never thought I’d be doing all of this in a million years,” said Kyle Erickson, a North Dakota native, a college graduate, a business professional, a comedian, and a person with Cerebral Palsy. Erickson was diagnosed when he was just nine months old.
“I wasn’t hitting my milestones,” he explained. “My mom always shares this big story with me that the first time she knew something was up in the middle of summer. Flies in North Dakota can get bad, and my eyes were following them, but I wasn’t swatting at them. “
Erikson is now a research associate at NDCPD, which is the North Dakota Center for Persons with Disabilities. It’s the very same place Kyle’s mom took him when she suspected something was different about Kyle.
“She brought me in here and got some of the early interventionists involved in my situation, and we sort of went from there,” said Erickson.
Signs of Cerebral Palsy or CP can be identified in someone as young as 6 months old.
“Many of those early developmental milestones are about motor and physicalness,” explained the Executive Director of the North Dakota Center for Persons with Disabilities, Dr. Lori Garnes. “So, you’re going to probably see those signs pretty early. If the baby doesn’t have proper muscle tone to hold up their head well and stability within the time frame that you would expect, that’s an indicator. If they are not able to stand and balance themselves, that’s another indicator. Not being able to roll over fluidly. Even saying the first words. So it’s very common for children with cerebral palsy to be identified even six months to a year into their life.”
The CDC defines CP as a group of disorders that affect a person’s ability to move and maintain balance and posture. Cerebral means having to do with the brain. Palsy means weakness or problems with using the muscles. CP is not genetic, it develops when some type of injury occurs before, during, or soon after birth.
“If the baby has some type of deprivation of oxygen,” said Dr. Garnes. “So, let’s say the umbilical cord is compromised in some way and the baby lacks oxygen during the birth time. That could leave a little brain injury or a little brain scar. Stroke, a prenatal stroke, or a stroke that happens shortly after birth. Accidents where perhaps where in the olden days they used to use forceps when they would deliver babies and sometimes squeezing the head, put pressure on and actually caused a brain injury or brain bleed that affected the person. Being born prematurely.”
But just because someone is diagnosed with CP, doesn’t mean they can’t live a normal and full life. The symptoms of CP vary from person to person. There are also different levels and different types.
“Cerebral palsy does not necessarily indicate that isn’t going to have a normal intelligence or have a successful job or career or college education,” Dr. Garnes said.
And Kyle Erickson is a testament to that. Not only does he live everyday life independently; doctor’s appointments, grocery shopping, and getting to and from work. He’s also turned his hobby of comedy into a career that makes light of his experiences living with CP.
“I found out the hard way when a cop pulled me over coming home one night. Did you know that you can get a DUI in a wheelchair? Yeah well, I didn’t either until just that moment. He said yeah, I won’t give you one. But like what are they going to do, take away my license,” Erickson joked.
Erickson says even though he makes light of his situation, there have been hard times too. He says the most challenging part of his disability living in North Dakota, is the transportation aspect.
“A pretty big obstacle when I was going to start working was, I don’t drive. So, it’s like how are you going to get back and forth to work? Minot here locally has Souris Basin. But the hours are limited. And they only run during business hours. So, if you want to do anything after six, seven o’clock, sorry. And other communities around the state are really limited too. Most of the buses are handicapped accessible. But again, limited hours.”
But Erickson says NDCPD is a fantastic resource to have and says if they don’t have the answers you’re looking for, they have the resources to find the people who do.
“You can write an email asking us specific questions,” said Dr. Garnes. “People will ask us everything about disabilities in the school system, how to pay for things, what people’s rights are so that they can be sure they understand they are not being taken advantage of you name it, we get those questions.”
Erickson says, above all else, what has helped him the most through his life is staying positive, and always reaching for the stars.
“Don’t give up. I mean, you might have to do things a little bit differently. But where there’s a will, there’s a way.”