What is Cerebral Palsy Therapy?
A cerebral palsy diagnosis can be devastating for a family. When you have a normal pregnancy, you expect a normal delivery and a healthy baby. When a birth injury or cerebral palsy occurs, you will want to understand what happened and how.
Sometimes, it is best to discuss the situation with a professional to determine what really happened. Various types of therapists and medical specialists are available to help you and your child understand and manage their disorder.
Types of Therapy & Professional Care
There are many doctors, nurses and other medical specialists that can help you and your child overcome the challenges that come with cerebral palsy. They offer different forms of therapy to help manage symptoms, improve strength and more.
Health professionals that offer cerebral palsy therapy include:
- Child development specialists who track growth and milestones
- Occupational therapists who help with activities such as school, work, and sports
- Orthopedists who specialize in bone, muscle and tendon issues
- Massage therapists who can help lessen muscle discomfort
- Physical therapists who evaluate a person’s movement and make plans to improve it
- Psychologists who study the mind and behavior and offer cognitive therapy
- Special education teachers who work with children who have trouble learning
- Speech-language therapists who help patients to swallow, pronounce words, improve speech and more
- Nurses who assess health, treat illness and work to prevent complications
- Birth injury lawyers who help families seek compensation when improper medical care causes cerebral palsy
Some children with cerebral palsy face challenges when it comes to their day-to-day activities. Cerebral palsy occupational therapy can help them be more active and independent.
Occupational therapy for cerebral palsy helps kids work on issues related to daily activities. It may deal with sensory, cognitive or motor skill issues that affect everything from self-care to play.
Occupational therapy also helps parents of children with cerebral palsy. It can help them optimize their skills and become more confident in their ability to care for their child.
Occupational Therapy as Cerebral Palsy Treatment
In cerebral palsy occupational therapy, a specialized therapist will begin with an assessment of the child’s challenges and abilities. The therapist will also assess the child’s cultural influences and physical surroundings.
Based on their findings, the therapist will then make recommendations for changing the child’s surroundings to help them play and learn more effectively.
For example, an occupational therapist can help educate the child and parents about using their wheelchair to become more active and how to prevent common pressure sores.
An occupational therapist will also work closely with other caregivers, such as a speech therapist, to help increase the benefits of the therapy.
Physical therapy is often recommended for children with cerebral palsy.
According to United Cerebral Palsy (UCP), when physical therapy is combined with other treatments for children with cerebral palsy, their bodies may compensate by finding other areas of the brain that are not damaged.
When the brain is not able to move muscles in the arms or legs, the joints bend and “freeze.” These are called contractures. Contractures can become permanent without exercise. Physical therapy can help prevent this.
Physical therapists also help children with cerebral palsy improve their fine and gross motor skills. Small muscle movements of fingers and hands are fine motor skills. Examples are holding a pencil or utensil. Gross motor skills are movements of large muscle groups like the legs, thighs, and torso. Examples are standing, walking and balancing.
How a Physical Therapist Can Help
Physical therapists plan exercises to help children with cerebral palsy grow stronger. They teach routines that can help build tone in floppy muscles or help relax muscles that are too tense. They also teach children and caregivers how to correctly perform these helpful exercises on their own.
Physical therapists train children and parents how to use adaptive equipment, also called assistive technology. Determining a child’s needs and knowing which adaptive equipment may help is a key part of a cerebral palsy therapy plan.
Adaptive equipment helps children perform tasks in a more independent manner. Physical therapists might recommend braces, splints or casts. A bedridden patient may be able to move using a wheelchair. A patient with paralyzed muscles in the face and mouth may be able to communicate with a computer.
Cerebral palsy physical therapy is one of the best ways to reduce symptoms and enable children with cerebral palsy to gain independence. It can also help symptoms from growing worse.
Cerebral palsy may cause some children to experience difficulty speaking clearly. Speech therapy, one of the most widely used cerebral palsy therapies, can help them participate more fully in the world.
Cerebral palsy can affect muscle movement and coordination throughout the body, including the muscles that control talking, eating and breathing. Being unable to express their needs can make communication between the patient, family members, and other caregivers challenging.
Cerebral palsy speech therapy can help the child to use communication aids, build speech ability, learn sign language and restore speech in some cases. The duration and methods used in a speech therapy program depend on the particular abilities of the child.
How Speech Therapy Works
Speech therapy is conducted by a speech pathologist in group settings, one-on-one sessions and/or at home. As with most therapies for cerebral palsy, early intervention is critical for getting the best results.
Speech therapists also work with parents of children with cerebral palsy to help them improve their caregiving skills and become more confident in their ability to help their child.
Even if a child with cerebral palsy has mild symptoms and is able to speak well, speech therapy can help them speak more clearly, build vocabulary and improve listening skills.