The first and arguably most important step to take when you discover that your child is diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy is to educate yourself. What exactly is Cerebral Palsy? According to Mayo Clinic, Cerebral Palsy is defined as a disorder of movement, muscle tone or posture that is caused by injury or abnormal development in the immature brain, most often before birth. Common side effects of Cerebral Palsy include unsteady walking, abnormal posture, exaggerated reflexes or rigidity of limbs and trunk, and involuntary movements. Other medical complications, such as seizures, vision or hearing problems, or intellectual impairments are likely to accompany Cerebral Palsy. Some of the signs of Cerebral Palsy include, but are not limited to:
- Not blinking at loud noises by one month
- Not sitting by seven months
- Not turning head toward sounds by four months
- Not verbalizing words by 12 months
- Walking with an abnormal gait
Each case of Cerebral Palsy is unique to the individual; while one child may have total paralysis and require constant care, another may only have slight tremors and need little assistance. The differences are due to the specific timing and type of injury to the underdeveloped brain. Cerebral Palsy is often classified according to its severity level:
- Mild Cerebral Palsy: child can move without assistance; his or her daily activities are not extremely limited.
- Moderate Cerebral Palsy: child will likely need braces, medications, and adaptive technology to accomplish daily activities.
- Severe Cerebral Palsy: child will require a wheelchair and will have significant challenges in accomplishing daily activities.
There is no cure for Cerebral Palsy, but treatment, therapy, special equipment, and, in some cases, surgery can help improve the quality of life for a child who is diagnosed. Taking the right steps to care for your child with Cerebral Palsy is the most important.
Create a Plan
Ultimately, the main long-term goal ought to be providing your child with the highest level of independence along with the finest quality of life possible. Some smaller tasks to complete in order to achieve the final goal may include:
- Optimizing mobility
- Controlling the child’s levels of pain
- Enhancing social interactions and ability to communicate with others
- Maximizing your child’s learning potential
In order to achieve these goals, you must understand what resources are available and necessary to meet your child’s needs. Your doctor can help find appropriate Early Intervention programs and assemble a care team composed of medical specialists customized to your child’s needs. These specialists may include:
- Physical therapists
- Speech pathologists
Additionally, look to governmental programs such as Medicaid, which can provide financial assistance in covering your child’s necessary therapies.
Build a Support System
Over 10,000 babies born each year will develop cerebral palsy, and assistance is more accessible than you may realize. Family members, friends and co-workers will provide support, while expertise is available through therapists, teachers, and medical specialists. The government is providing more funding, and research continues to advance our understanding of Cerebral Palsy, so that better quality of life can be provided. More help is available than ever, so it is essential as a parent to stay calm and be proactive. It is also important to expand your support system to include parents who have children with Cerebral Palsy. By reaching out to other families coping with Cerebral Palsy, you will have a crucial network that will be extremely beneficial in sharing good therapists, medical specialists, schools, and most importantly, support.
Play Your Part, Share Your Story
Learning how other parents care for their children who may be battling similar issues can be extremely beneficial, spark meaningful conversation, and spread helpful ideas. Please consider sharing your story with others to make a meaningful impact and strengthen your support system.
Reviewed by Melissa Hendrickson, RN and Director of Health Services at Penfield Children’s Center.
My Child at Cerebral Palsy.org. 3 June 2013. <www.cerebralpalsy.org>.
“Cerebral Palsy.” Mayo Clinic. 3 June 2013. <http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/cerebral-palsy/DS00302>.