As a parent, it can be hard to watch your child struggle emotionally, especially if you don’t know how to help. This guide will cover what to expect as a parent, better equipping you to provide emotional care for children with cerebral palsy.
More than half of children with cerebral palsy (CP) will have some form of psychological health problem. One in five children with CP will face multiple emotional and mental health challenges. The most common condition among children with CP is ADHD.
Nearly 20 percent of individuals with CP will experience depression, and 16 percent will experience anxiety disorders
What Causes Emotional Distress in Children With Cerebral Palsy?
Many different factors can cause distress, requiring emotional care for children with cerebral palsy. These distress factors can include:
- The Injury Itself: The parts of the brain responsible for regulating emotions may not be fully developed due to damage. Or, your child might not know how to effectively communicate to you that they are in pain.
- Family Situation: Living with parents who suffer from depression or coming from a low-income home both increase their risk of mental illness.
- Growing Up: As your child becomes an adult they will have to deal with more challenges: figuring out what they want to be when they grow up and how to pursue that dream, learning how to live independently and navigating professional, platonic and romantic relationships.
- Lack of Accessible Services: Being unable to participate in different activities or go to different places can increase your child’s feelings of isolation.
- Peer Relationships: Living with a disability can cause anxiety, feelings of isolation and lower self-esteem in children. These feelings can be made even worse if your child is bullied because of their disability.
It’s important to point out that these factors are not connected to the severity of your child’s CP. They are related to your child’s pain management, amount of sleep and stress levels as well as how much support they receive and whether or not they’ve learned effective coping skills.
Symptoms of Emotional Distress
One of the struggles that parents can run into if they are worried about their child’s mental health is the symptoms can vary widely from person to person. Furthermore, some symptoms, like physical pain, mimic the symptoms of CP.
Below are some common symptoms of different mental health problems linked to CP. However, these lists aren’t exhaustive, so if you are concerned, please speak with a professional.
Some common indicators of ADHD are:
- Difficulty paying attention in school
- Struggling to finish assigned tasks
- Losing things and forgetfulness
- Being restless or fidgety
- Constantly interrupting others and talkativeness
- Inability to deal with frustrations
For depression, some of the common symptoms are:
- Physical pain
- Sense of hopelessness
- Feeling sad, anxious or empty
- Lower energy levels
- Changes to their sleep (either more or less)
- Restlessness and difficulty concentrating
For it to be considered clinical depression, your child must experience the symptoms for at least two weeks. These symptoms must be severe enough to interfere with their everyday life.
There are different types of anxiety disorders: generalized anxiety disorders, panic disorders and social anxiety disorders. However, they all share some of the same characteristics:
- Rapid heartbeat
- Constant fidgeting
- Feeling dizzy, shaky or nauseous
- Avoiding people
- Staying away from new places
- Excessively worrying about little things
Providing Emotional Care for Children With Cerebral Palsy
If your child is experiencing emotional distress, it’s important to remember that, as a parent, you can help. You can build strong relationships with your children, teach them good coping strategies, give them opportunities to express themselves, work on their communication skills and provide them with assistive devices and other tools to help them be independent.
One of the ways you can help your child is by supporting them as they pursue their interests. Participating in art classes, music lessons or team sports are great ways for your child to learn how to express themselves while they become more confident in their ability and make new friends.
Other options for emotional care for children with cerebral palsy include professional counseling (where they can learn effective coping strategies) and medications to help rebalance their brain chemistry.
As hard as it can be to learn about the emotional difficulties your child may face after they’ve received a CP diagnosis, it’s important for parents to be aware. This way you can be proactive and try to alleviate some of the stresses your child will face over not fitting in or not being able to do different activities without aids.
If you or your child is struggling emotionally with the diagnosis, seek out support from organizations dedicated to providing support and emotional care for children with cerebral palsy. Being part of a community gives you and your child the tools to have the best possible quality of life for your family.