What is Cerebral Palsy?
Cerebral palsy is the general term for a number of neurological conditions that affect movement and co-ordination. Neurological conditions are caused by problems in the brain and nervous system.
Specifically, cerebral palsy is caused by a problem in the parts of the brain responsible for controlling muscles. The condition can occur if the brain develops abnormally or is damaged before, during or shortly after birth. It is estimated that 1 in 400 people in the UK is affected by cerebral palsy.
The symptoms of cerebral palsy normally become apparent during the first three years of a child's life. The main symptoms are:
muscle stiffness or floppiness
random and uncontrolled body movements
balance and co-ordination problems
No one child with cerebral palsy is the same - everyone has a unique set of skills and difficulties. For some, the problems may be so mild that they are not necessarily detected by the medical profession. For example a child may appear to be perfectly "normal? in every way, but get very tired in school . This contrasts with the most severely affected children who may need to be tube fed. Many also suffer from cortical visual impairment which has a major impact on the speed with which they can learn, quite apart from any cognitive impairments.
Although it affects everyone differently, the main physical symptoms of cerebral palsy are problems with muscle tone,balance, control, reflexes and posture. Your child may also find it difficult to swallow, eat or talk.
Cerebral Palsy and School
Just because your child has cerebral palsy does not mean that they cannot go to a mainstream school, make friends, or do the things they enjoy. However, you might notice that they do these things a little differently and need some help.
Because their muscles are weak, a child with cerebral palsy will often look clumsy when they are walking, talking and using their hands for everyday tasks such as using scissors or painting. They will also feel tired more quickly than other children. There can also be more subtle problems with visual motor skills which may be missed in the classroom.
Children with cerebral palsy may also have learning difficulties and behavioural problems, as well as poor listening skills and problems with their attention and memory. Because of this they might need specialist equipment and extra help, for example educational psychology, physiotherapy, occupational therapy or speech and language therapy.
It is important that the school knows that your child may days because they have to go to appointments, so they need to provide extra support so your child does not fall behind.
The school also needs to be aware of anything that could cause problems with your child getting around - they might need to make changes to the classroom especially if your child has a walking aid or wheelchair.
If your child has problems with communication, the school might be able to provide technology and equipment that can help.
Many parents have also found conductive education, a type of schooling originally devised in the Peto institute in Budapest but now adopted in some schools in England to be extremely helpful.
Cerebral palsy can cause difficulty with muscle tone and control. Your child may have delays speaking or have speech that is hard to understand. Reading with your child and having your child name objects in the book or read aloud to you can strengthen his speech skills. You'll find sharing books together is a great way to bond with your son or daughter and help your child's development at the same time.
Position your child next to you on the couch. If your child is in a wheelchair or special chair, sit close enough so he can see the book and hear you. Ask your child's occupational and/or physical therapist about special tools to help your child prop up the book.
Find books that have buttons to press that make sounds. Buy audio books that your child can start or stop by pressing a button.
Read aloud and talk about the pictures. Ask your child to name objects or read aloud.
Buy books or borrow books from the library that have thick, sturdy pages.