Diverse Abilities

Gina Martin

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Neurological Disabilities

neurological disabilitiesYou may be familiar with the most known of the many neurological disabilities:

- Epilepsy. Abnormal electrical activity in the brain causing seizures.

- Parkinson’s Disease. A brain disorder that causes unintended or uncontrollable movements, such as shaking, stiffness, and difficulty with balance and coordination,

- Tourette Syndrome. It causes uncontrollable sudden twitches, movements, sounds, or vocalizations that people do repeatedly (tics).

Symptoms can range from mild to profound. No two people’s experience is going to be the same. Most people living with a neurological disability have periods of time where they appear not to have a disability at all. That’s why a neurological disability is often non apparent, and you may never know unless the person informs you of their diagnosis, or their uncontrollable symptoms present in the moment that you are present.

Some disabilities such as Tourette Syndrome or forms of Autism may cause people to say, or do things that others find annoying or offensive, such as a sudden outburst of profanity or yelling, including racial slurs. These outbursts are a manifestation of neurological disease, and the person has no control over the content, volume, or duration of the outburst.  These shouted words and phrases are ones that they would not voluntarily use. Don’t take anything personal that is said at such times; recognize it for the involuntary neurological response that it is. If the symptoms are ignored, they will subside sooner than if a commotion is created.

Epilepsy may cause seizures, where some people appear dazed, but will not necessarily fall, and others will lose consciousness and muscle control, and will experience spasms. Ask people to move away and create a calm space for the individual. Do not put anything in their mouth. Do not attempt to restrain their limbs or body.  If possible, roll them onto their side (recovery position) and remove items from around the person that could get knocked over and fall onto the person or someone else, or that the person may injury themselves on during the seizure.

People living with Parkinson’s experience many different symptoms, some physical that you can see, and some that you cannot see. Every person’s experience will be different. If you are curious about a person, please ask the individual you are curious about to gain accurate information about that person.

Please remember that individuals living with a neurological disability, or any other disability are not doing anything deliberately to upset anyone. Their behaviours and level of functionality are not within their control.

In trying to control your own fears and misconceptions, you’ll behave in a way that will extend courtesy and maximize dignity for everyone. Especially if the involuntary actions and behaviours cause you to feel uncomfortable.


If other people are uncomfortable in the presence of the person, you can ask the uncomfortable person if they would like to move to a different area. Only under very rare circumstances should you ask the individual with a disability to move or leave the premises.

Always ask the person how you can be a support to them and what you can do to help.

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