21 March 2009
Cerebral Palsy - The Facts
Cerebral means having to do with the brain. Palsy means weakness or problems with using the muscles. Often the brain injury happens before birth or sometimes during delivery. CP can be mild, moderate, or severe. Mild CP may mean a child is clumsy. Moderate CP may mean the child walks with a limp. They may need a special leg brace or a cane. More severe CP can affect all parts of a child's physical abilities. A child with moderate or severe CP may have to use a wheelchair and other special equipment. Sometimes children with CP can also have learning difficulties or problems with hearing or seeing (called sensory problems). However, CP doesn't get worse over time.
Diplegia - This means only the legs are affected.
Hemiplegia - This means one half of the body (such as the right arm and leg) is affected.
Quadriplegia - This means both arms and legs are affected, sometimes including the facial muscles and torso.
What about treatment? Typically, children with CP may need different kinds of therapy, including:
Physical therapy (PT), which helps the child develop stronger muscles such as those in the legs and trunk. Through PT, the child works on skills such as walking, sitting, and keeping his or her balance. Use of Hydrotherapy/swimming is very beneficial.
Occupational therapy (OT), which helps the child develop fine motor skills such as dressing, feeding, writing, and other daily living tasks.
Speech-language (S/L) , which helps the child develop his or her communication skills. The child may work in particular on speaking and swallowing which may be difficult due to problems with muscle tone of the tongue and throat.
Communication devices , which can range from the simple to the sophisticated. Communication boards, for example, have pictures, symbols, letters, or words attached. The child communicates by pointing to or gazing at the pictures or symbols. Augmentative communication devices are more sophisticated and include voice synthesizers that enable the child to "talk" with others.
Computer technology , which can range from electronic toys with special switches to sophisticated computer programs operated by simple switch pads or keyboard adaptations.
New medical treatments are being developed all the time. Sometimes surgery or medications such as baclofan and Botox injections can help lessen the effects of CP
A child with CP can face many challenges in school and is likely to need individualized help. The ability of the brain to find new ways of working after an injury is remarkable. Even so, it can be difficult for parents to imagine what their child's future will be like. Good therapy and handling can help, but the most important "treatment" the child can receive is love and encouragement, with lots of typical childhood experiences, family, and friends. With the right mix of support, equipment, extra time, and accommodations, all children with CP can be successful learners and full participants in life.