Raleigh, N.C. — For many children with cerebral palsy, simply learning to walk is a lifetime goal.
Cerebral palsy is caused by an injury to the brain before, during or shortly after birth, which can cause a variety of disabilities.
Leah Cauley, 17, a dance student for the past 10 years at the Raleigh School of Ballet, has a goal to help children with the condition discover the joys of dancing.
“After my cousin Ashton was born, I realized that I didn't think it was fair that some people weren't able to express themselves,” Cauley said.
Cauley’s cousin, Ashton McNeely, 9, has cerebral palsy. Ashton was born two months early, and low oxygen levels led to a brain injury.
“That affects her motor skills, fine motor skills, and also she's mainly affected in her calf muscles and her feet,” Ashton’s mother, Melanie McNeely, said.
Ashton inspired Cauley’s idea to develop a cerebral palsy ballet program as her senior project at Clayton High School.
In the classes, she emphasizes stretching and ballet body positions. Though there isn’t a lot of research to support it, Cauley said the practice offers a physical therapeutic benefit.
“Ballet works muscles that sometimes you don't know exist, and I think you can specifically target areas that children with CP need,” she said.
McNeely said the exercises are really good for her daughter. The emotional and mental benefits alone are worth the time and effort, she said.
“You know your child will never dance like Leah can dance - beautiful on stage - but she dances her way and the best way that she can and is positive about it, and that's what makes it great,” McNeely said.
Cauley is hoping to earn a grant so she can develop a cerebral palsy dance therapy program.