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A story to focus on what one can do


BUENOS AIRES, Argentina.
The story of Constanza Orbaiz makes us think that "it always works when we focus on what we can do." At birth, she suffered cerebral palsy. Today she is a successful educational psychologist trained in the light of Poveda.


At birth, she suffered cerebral palsy, worked on her development and integration accompanied by her family, friends and the institutions she attended. She studied educational psychology at Pedro Poveda Institute in Buenos Aires. Today she practices her profession in a special way and in a school. She created the project "From within, a different perspective" and offers workshops on disability. In 2013, she received the Alpi biennial prize and the TOYP "Outstanding Young Person from Argentina," awarded by the International Junior Chamber.

At the beginning of the month she told her story at TEDx Talks Río de la Plata and reached out to many people. It is a story with a different, creative, empowering, intelligent strength. Her way of looking at people makes us better people.

Clarín newspaper of Buenos Aires also noticed Constanza and gave her an opportunity to share her story. We present a summary of the article (and the possibility of reading it at the end of this article, watch her TED Talks video, and visit her blog).

My birth, my first problem

"I will start with a something that seems obvious but it is not so: my life began with my birth. I can see the reader's raised eyebrow. Please do not stop reading, I'll explain. In general, upon our arrival in the world, we are followed by a long nap where no baby is distinguishable from any other. Instinct rules, the environment assists and life develops successfully. But of course, I say that mine starts with my birth because there I had to face my first problem: the one that was going to mark forever the rest of my nascent biography. With that great challenge, early, my uniqueness was established.

During birth, I went into cardiorespiratory arrest. Even more, within the first twelve hours I suffered another one. This is a sensitive period of time where an incident of this type can bring very serious consequences. The lack of oxygen caused a brain injury. (...) But my parents never got frightened, and, in spite of the commotion, they did not lose sight of me in the middle of that tongue twister. They had already given me the cutest name: María Constanza.

But Coni -as they call me- had all four limbs affected. There was no way to know the consequences I was going to endure. Nobody was sure if I was going to be able to talk, walk, or even move. As whenever a child is born with a disability, a world of uncertainty about the future opened up. And the deadlines become shorter. All plans had a more limited spectrum.

Then we started a busy weekly routine with different treatments. Time was broken into shifts, procedures and schedules. Imagine, whoever has had the great fortune of not having experienced a similar childhood, the daily effort we went through with my parents and the rest of my loved ones. (...)

The first step towards integration

After those years, the first great test arrived. Kindergarten. A difficult step towards integration. I was able to go to a regular school, a Waldorf school that emphasized the union between body and soul, respecting the individuality of each student. But the contrast with my companions was a hard reality bath. (...)

Segmented schooling

Then came primary school. All my schooling was broken up into short segments. Never at the beginning of a year were we sure that I would finish it. At the end of each grade we assessed everything to see how it all went. As the learning content was more complex, I found it increasingly difficult to keep up. Writing well was a torture, at the end of each day I was dead tired. I could not go to school every day. The lag was accentuated.

 Let's be clear: cerebral palsy does not mean having a paralyzed brain. But if at the same time that your classmates are involved in learning and refining the elegant curves of a cursive handwriting, you are just learning to walk ... well, it is clear that the development can never be even. In my case I was not slower not at the intellectual level but at the psycho-motor level. Finally, I walked at 7 but without the walker at 12. (...)

I finished my schooling in a school for adults. I never repeated any grade. I just adjusted to the unforeseen events of life. I always found people of good will to do it.

They were also the years of my first transgressions. At 14, one day, I told the boy that picked me up at school that my parents were coming. I had it well planned. I went home on public transportation. My heart danced in my chest. It was the first time in my life that I felt so free, so independent. When I got home and told my mom, she almost died. Then, with her permission, I started doing it often. (...)

Educational psychologist at Poveda’s school


I was always attracted to the possibility of working with children who went through diagnoses similar to mine. Could I help others with my own disability? I had plenty of desire: yes ... yes ... I had to see how. I studied Special Education for a year, but I did not feel sure. Then I went to study educational psychology at Pedro Poveda Institute of Vicente López. I took subject by subject. Safe and slow

But finally, my spirit took its toll on me through so many years of effort. I had reached an impossible place, according to that look that never stopped pointing out to me. I got depressed. I entered a period of great darkness. I did not feel sorry for myself. But there was so much more to go that it seemed impossible. I faced my grief: re-evaluate my problem, cast a new light on what I lacked. My friends were there to help me. So were my family and my therapist. We all pulled the cart together.

And I began to pass courses. As it always happened to me with people everywhere, some teachers got along better than others with my disability. The first companions left. The screening courses claimed their first victims until we got to Evolutionary Psychology. The Great Cuckoo. I knew a lot but I was scared to death when I went to take the final exam.

My friends pushed me onwards. I waited. When they called me, I almost fainted. I was already exhausted. I gave everything I had, I spoke, I spoke and spoke. At the end of the exam the teacher asked me: "What are you going to do when you graduate?". We were halfway through the degree! I did not even know if I was going to survive that moment. "I would like to work with children with cerebral palsy," I said. What he told me afterwards was tremendous: "I'm going to ask you a favor, that you dedicate yourself to that, that you actually do it, because you can help a lot." I do not even remember the grade he gave me.

That was a break. For the first time in my life I had such a distant goal. That  which was so rooted in me, that dream of a little bit at a time ("let's see if she walks", "if she passes her grade", "if she can take this subject") expanded into a luminous hope, which pointed me to a remote but clear goal. And this invited me to take that light to other areas of my life. Joy is strength.

"It was a four-year degree. I took eight, but I graduated. Those were eight spectacular years."

A project with my point of view

After graduation came the job interviews. I could not respond to some opportunities. Others did not convince me. I did an internship at a school where they received me very well and I started to have contact with my role as an educational psychologist.

But my career did not quite begin yet. At the university, I had already participated in some workshops telling my experience with disability. My situation seemed to tell me then:  why, instead of trying to fit in again, don’t you generate your own space? That was the beginning of From Within, a platform from which I could share with the entire educational community, parents, students, teachers, my point of view, everything I had learned before and during my studies. I was a recent graduate, yes, but with a field experience of almost three decades.

People liked the proposal. The message was simple: we have to close the rigid manual of pathologies and focus on the subjectivity of the patient. Look at it seriously. Ask how he or she feels. What he or she wants. Every condition is unique and each one is the captain of one’s destiny.

At that time, recognitions arrived and I received invitations to give endless talks. Today I participate in seminars, I maintain my own practice and I enjoy a job in the school where I did that internship. They gave me prizes that I accepted with pride and these favored the dissemination of my approach. But I do not want to be an example of anything. If my story helps someone, I am glad, but they are in charge of their own. What kept me navigating these rough waters was learning not to take charge of the gaze of others.

Comparisons limit us. Everyone must find oneself and give what he or she came to give to this world. Be it a lot or a little, it does not matter. These are categories that are imposed from the outside. (...)

TEDx Talks Río de la Plata: Discapacidad, poder distinto

Further Reading, in Spanish:

Clarín Newspaper, Mundos íntimos: cada uno es capitán de su destino

Infobae, Hice el duelo por el cuerpo que nunca voy a tener... (texto y vídeo)

Desde adentro: una mirada diferente sobre la discapacidad

Constanza en Facebook

Sources: Clarín, Buenos Aires. Blog Desde adentro. TEDs Talks Río de la Plata

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