How can life be made easier for children with Cerebral Palsy?

Little girl in wheelchair

A child with cerebral palsy can now benefit from regular medical review and input from a multi-disciplinary healthcare team. There are several different therapies available to ensure a child with cerebral palsy is able to reach his or her full potential throughout their journey towards adulthood.

Physiotherapy

The moment a child is diagnosed with cerebral palsy, a physiotherapy assessment should be arranged in order to identify the main focus for any exercises.  Stretches and exercise will help to prevent the shortening of muscles and the resultant loss of movement that often occurs in later life, as well as strengthen muscles that aren’t often used. The Physiotherapist will work with parents to ensure that any exercises are fun and can be completed easily at home or school as part of a child’s daily routine.

Occupational therapy

The reduced muscle control and coordination that occur as a result of having cerebral palsy can make everyday tasks that most people take for granted very difficult. Whether it’s at home or at a child’s school, an occupational therapist will assess all the environments in which a child or a young person spends time in order to make everyday activities easier. For instance, an older child can enjoy privacy and independence when going to the toilet with the addition of some hand-rails and specially adapted toilet facilities. A good occupational therapist can boost a child’s confidence and self-esteem by promoting independent living.

Speech therapy

Cerebral palsy can make the coordination of tongue, mouth and lip movement difficult, therefore speaking and swallowing can be difficult. Speech therapists work with children to improve control and coordination – with the aim of improving clarity of speech and swallow control. When therapy alone doesn’t work, some children can benefit from learning to communicate through using an assistive communication device such as, a computer or speech synthesiser might be recommended.

Dental care 

Some children with cerebral palsy are affected in a way that has implications for their dental care. A child might find it difficult to clean their teeth, chew and swallow. These issues can lead to anxiety and behavioural problems, so it is important that advice and help are provided – either by a dentist or an occupational therapist. A child with cerebral palsy might be given a specially adapted toothbrush with a moulded hand-grip, and some children find brushing with an electric toothbrush a great deal easier. Not all dentists have the specialist knowledge needed for treating a child with a disability, which is why a dentist should be made aware of how cerebral palsy affects the child before an appointment is made.

Surgery

Surgery may often be considered in order to lengthen muscles and tendons, and to improve mobility. But as surgery can be traumatic for young children, this will always be discussed carefully with both the child and the parents beforehand. Surgery to relieve the symptoms of cerebral palsy is likely to involve a period of post-operative rehabilitation in order to ensure an optimal outcome. A relatively new procedure for the treatment of cerebral palsy in young children is selective dorsal rhizotomy, which involves the cutting of specific nerves in the spine in order to relieve profound stiffness in the legs.

There is lots of support available for children with cerebral palsy and their families. An early diagnosis and effective treatment, alongside the support of a solid multidisciplinary team, can ensure children with cerebral palsy are able to live an active and productive life.

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