Cerebral palsy is an umbrella term used to cover many different neurological disorders discovered in very young children. It is thought to occur in three babies out of every 1,000. The brain injuries that cause cerebral palsy cannot be healed, and often result in mobility and coordination problems, as well as seizures. Though there is no cure for the condition, symptoms can often be managed, reduced or even eliminated through a broad range of treatments and therapies.
Innovative and promising medical and therapeutic cerebral palsy treatments are constantly being developed and updated. While there is as yet no cure for CP, multiple surgery options and a variety of medications are effective in easing discomfort associated with the condition. In most cases, the treatment goals include optimizing mobility, managing primary conditions, controlling pain, preventing and managing complications, maximizing independence, enhancing social interactions, encouraging self-care and maximizing the ability to communicate.
There is no standard therapy that works for all patients; every case must be assessed and treated separately. Still, medications are generally used to control seizures and muscle spasms, while special braces are often able to compensate for muscle imbalance. Surgery, mechanical aids to help overcome impairments, counseling for emotional and psychological needs, early education and technology, as well as physical, occupational, speech, and behavioral therapies have also proven effective.
Some of the most widely-used treatments include:
- Drug Therapy
- Dopaminergic Medicines
- Individualized Family Services Plan
- Assistive Technology
- Mechanical Aids
Early identification of cerebral palsy can reduce developmental problems and provide early intervention that is crucial for the child’s future. These cerebral palsy treatment programs are family-centered. In other words, professionals and families work together with the CP child in special activities. In most cases, the effects of cerebral palsy can be modified with early intervention and ongoing treatment. Children with this condition can learn to adapt their bodies to circumvent the effects of the disease. For example, an infant who is incapable of crawling may be able to move around by rolling to where he wants to go.
The condition of toddlers (3 years old and below) can show marked improvement from early intervention services – a series of services which offer assistance to physically challenged infants and toddlers and their families. Once the child is old enough to enter the school system, special education and related services are available to help the special needs child adapt and succeed.
There are a number of therapies available to the CP Child. These include:
- Physical therapy (PT) strengthens the leg and trunk muscles, PT enables and forces the child to practice and refine their ability to walk, sit up, and maintain balance.
- Occupational therapy (OT) helps develop delicate motor skills: getting dressed, eating, writing, and general daily tasks.
- Speech-language pathology (S/L), helps develop communication skills. CP patients often have speech difficulties due to problems with muscle tone of the tongue and throat which can be resolved or modified using S/L.
There are also several less-traditional therapies available, including aqua therapy, massage therapy, hippotherapy, play therapy, recreation therapy, and others.
The members of the professional treatment team involved in the care of a CP child must represent a wide range of specialties including, but not limited to:
- A physician, (preferably a pediatrician), a pediatric neurologist, or a pediatric physiatrist, with experience in working with the developmentally disabled. In most cases the physician coordinates the efforts of the patient’s care by synthesizing the advice of the members into an all-inclusive treatment plan, implementing treatments, and following the patient’s progress.
- An orthopedic surgeon specializes in treating the skeletal system – bones, muscles, tendons can treat many of the muscle problems symptomatic of cerebral palsy.
- A physical therapist will design a customized exercise program to improve movement, mobility and strength.
- An occupational therapist teaches patients the skills necessary for daily life at home, in school and at work.
- A speech and language pathologist, who treats speech and communication problems.
- A social worker helps patients and their families find social assistance, welfare and special education programs.
- A psychologist helps patients and their families cope with the stresses and emotional demands that accompany any debilitating physical condition. They can also supervise therapy to modify negative behavior habits.
- An educator can often play a dominant role when mental and or physical impairment create learning disabilities which disrupt the normal educational channels.
It is vitally important that individuals who suffer from CP, their immediate family members and personal caregivers, include themselves in the treatment team, instead of relying on the “professionals” to do the thinking and planning for them. This means that they should be personally involved in the planning and decision making, as well as in the therapeutic treatments. Family support and personal determination are two very significant factors in a CP patient’s chance to achieve their long-term goals.
Through the joint efforts of physical therapists and engineers, there is today a wide and varied range of special equipment which is helpful to the CP child. Braces are effective in holding the child’s foot steady when they stand or walk. Splints help a child use their hands and a variety of equipment, while toys help CP children enjoy the exercise they need to strengthen their bodies. Outdoor sports like swimming and horseback riding can be effective in strengthening weak muscles and relaxing tighter ones.
Caretakers and parents sometimes make the mistake of focusing on only one symptom, like the inability to walk. While acquiring specific skills can be valuable, the essential goal should be to help individuals with physical disabilities mature and reach adulthood having achieved maximum personal independence. As one noted doctor articulated it, “Ultimately, the goal of walking is to get from point A to point B, and the measure of success should be if that goal has been accomplished rather than necessarily how it has been achieved. Thus, if a child needs a wheelchair, so be it. The main consideration is that they are able to achieve this goal.”