What is Cerebal Palsey?
March is Cerebral Palsy Awareness Month! Cerebral palsy (CP) is a group of neurological diagnoses that refer to an injury to the brain that occurs before birth, during birth, or during the first 2 years. Cerebral palsy can present in many different ways, depending on the part of the brain that is affected. It can impact one limb, up to all 4. It can affect the way someone walks, talks, eats, hears, sees, uses the bathroom, breathes, and more. It can also cause someone to make involuntary, uncontrollable movements. Someone who has CP can still be cognitively intact, even if they cannot speak. Just because someone moves, talks, sees, or hears differently, does not mean that they are not able to understand and participate in activities or school like a typical child; however, they often benefit from adaptations to help them fully engage.
Parents are often the first to recognize that something is not typical with their child. Early signs of CP include a child not achieving developmental milestones, abnormal postures, rigid or stiff limbs, or favoring one side of their body. If a parent has concerns, they should contact their pediatrician.
Cerebral palsy is not progressive; however, secondary factors can affect a child’s function. As children grow, their muscle length (flexibility), bones, and joints may not develop in an optimal manner because of muscle and nerve dysfunction. Often times, children with CP undergo several surgeries. CP is not contagious. Although there is no cure for CP, therapy can be very beneficial for children and adults who have CP to help improve their function and participation within the school and the community.
Physical therapy can be very helpful in teaching those with CP to walk using different assistive devices or use a wheelchair. It is also very common for people with CP to wear orthotics or braces on their feet to help improve the position of their feet and legs when sitting or walking. Stretching is often part of therapy for kids with CP to ensure their muscles remain at an optimal length as children grow for improved joint alignment. Physical therapy promotes active participation in daily tasks and should be started as soon as possible to help achieve the highest level of function.
Occupational therapy (OT) can help with increasing function through completion of activities of daily living. OT can increase strength in the arms and help provide adaptations to help with activities, such as dressing, writing, feeding, and other fine motor tasks. They can also help those with CP with understanding sensory input and create a daily routine. Furthermore, OT can assist with problem-solving skills. Developing these skills from a young age can be very beneficial for promoting independence with daily skills.
Speech therapy can help provide a voice for those with CP. If a child is able to speak, they can help with improving their articulation and ability to say words and phrases. If a child is not able to speak, they can provide adaptations to help a child communicate. With advances in technology, there are numerous options for finding a way to communicate. A speech therapist can also help with feeding and swallowing. It is amazing to see someone’s personality shine as they learn to communicate.
Every person who has cerebral palsy is unique and faces their own challenges. One thing everyone has in common is the desire to have fun, make friends, be talked to, and to be part of the community. The way they do this may look a little different, but with determination and assistance, there is a way. Wear green this month to support the awesome individuals with cerebral palsy!