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What The TV Show "Special" Teaches About Living With Birth Injuries

Amanda Turner
June 14, 2021

Birth injuries can be catastrophic, mild, or somewhere in between. The Netflix series Special, starring Ryan O’Connell, sheds light on the latter. O’Connell’s performance in Special provides viewers with an inside look at the long-standing issues birth issues can create. In the series, O’Connell’s character has cerebral palsy, a condition usually related to birth injury. Cerebral palsy symptoms range from mild to severe and can include physical effects (O’Connell’s character walks with a noticeable limp) and long-standing emotional consequences (O’Connell lies to his friends about his disability due to embarrassment). 

Like his character in the series, O’Connell lives with cerebral palsy. His real life closely mirrors Special’s storyline. At the age of 20, O’Connell was hit by a car. He was living in a new city, and friends assumed that his limp was due to his car accident. For years, he didn’t correct them. 

Speaking of his injury, O’Connell says, “When I moved to New York, everyone assumed my limp was from my car accident. I never corrected them because, in my eyes, I never related to having cerebral palsy. My case was so mild, and I really was just looking for any opportunity to get cerebral palsy off of me.”

There’s no debate that birth injuries can be devastating — or even fatal. Many cases of birth injury, however, are similar to O’Connell’s experience with cerebral palsy. While the injury is life-altering, it’s not life-ending. Many people who experience birth injury go on to live full, successful lives, despite ongoing health issues. 

Cerebral palsy is the most common type of serious birth injury. The condition is caused by an interrupted oxygen flow to the baby’s brain during the birth process. 85-90% of cerebral palsy cases are caused by birth injury, although some cases of cerebral palsy occur after birth (this is known as acquired cerebral palsy).

birth injuries



Cerebral palsy symptoms like O’Connell’s are mild, but some adults with the condition live with:

  • Muscle spasms
  • Shaking hands
  • Learning disabilities
  • Face and tongue twitching
  • Swallowing problems
  • Paralysis
  • Premature aging

Cerebral palsy is not a progressive condition. This means that it does not get worse with age. Many people with the condition learn to adapt to their symptoms as children and continue to adapt later in life.


Hypoxic Ischemic Encephalopathy

Hypoxic Ischemic Encephalopathy, or HIE, is another type of birth injury that may have lifelong effects. HIE occurs when a baby experiences a lack of blood flow and oxygen to the brain and other parts of the body. Like cerebral palsy, some babies who are diagnosed with HIE go on to live a life with only mild symptoms, while others experience more severe lasting effects. 

Symptoms of HIE can include: 

  • Learning disabilities
  • Developmental delays
  • Problem swallowing
  • Problems controlling bowel movements
  • Inability to eat or speak

Some children who experience a birth injury resulting in HIE go on to have no symptoms at all, while others experience death or devastating lifelong effects. Recent research shows that cooling a newborn’s body temperature by a few degrees immediately after birth can reduce the amount of brain injury caused by HIE.

Erb’s Palsy

Erb’s palsy, or brachial plexus palsy, is another common type of birth injury from which babies can fully recover. Sometimes, a baby’s neck is stretched very far to one side during the childbirth process. The brachial plexus is a group of nerves that runs down the neck and spine. These nerves provide feeling to the arms and control the entire arm — shoulders to fingertips. These nerves also provide the arms, hands, and fingers with the ability to move. 

Symptoms of Erb’s palsy vary in severity, and may include: 

  • Paralysis in one arm
  • Weakness in one arm
  • Affected arm hanging and rotating in toward the body
  • Poor grip strength in the affected hand
  • Numbness in the affected arm

For many babies, the symptoms of Erb’s palsy go away just a few months after birth, causing no lasting effect. For other babies, physical therapy or surgery may be needed. For some people, lifelong effects can include the affected arm growing slightly shorter than the non-affected arm, or a lack of strength in the affected arm. 

birth injuries

If Your Baby Was Affected By A Birth Injury, We Can Help.

You only want the best for your little one, and it can feel devastating when they experience a birth injury. Thankfully, many birth injuries respond well to therapy and treatment. 

After a birth injury, it’s important that you have the financial means to get your child the treatment they deserve. You and your child may be entitled to financial compensation after your child’s birth injury. 

You don’t have to try to figure this out alone. Reach out to us today for a free case review and more information.


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We are here to help you and loved ones advocate for justice. Feel free to send us any questions you might have, either about an injury or the process for pursuing justice so we can help you exercise your rights.

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