What is Cerebral Palsy?
Cerebral Palsy (CP) is one of the most common disabilities in childhood. It results from an injury to the brain of a baby or a child while it is still developing. This injury can be an infection in the womb, or an infection before the age of 2 years, especially infections of the brain. It can also be from a difficult delivery. Newborn jaundice, as well as some inherited diseases and malformations that occurred in the womb, can also cause CP.
When a child has CP, he is unable to move like other children. He bears his body in an unusual way when sitting, standing or walking. Thinking, communication and behaviour may also be affected in some cases. Some children who have CP also have epilepsy.
Some pointers to cerebral palsy
In babies 3 to 6 months of age, pointers to cerebral palsy include the head falling back when the baby is picked up. The baby may feel stiff or floppy. The baby’s legs may cross like a pair of scissors when you pick him up.
For babies older than 6 months who have CP may not roll over when lying down. They may be unable to bring their hands together, take them to their mouth, or reach out for things. These babies may keep their hands fisted.
Babies older than 10 months of age who have CP may crawl in a lopsided manner, pushing off with one hand and leg while dragging the opposite hand and leg. They may also scoot around on their buttocks or hop on their knees, instead of crawling.
What next after diagnosis?
When a CP diagnosis is made for a child, management should be started early for best results. Effective management is by several other health workers in addition to the doctor.
What therapies does a child who has CP need?
A child who has CP needs physiotherapy, occupational therapy and speech and language therapy. He also needs medical management, dietherapy, psychosocial support, and education for himself, his carers and family members. Therapy will improve the quality of life of the child and care-givers.
Physiotherapy for CP
Since CP is a movement disorder, physiotherapy is extremely important. Physiotherapy helps a child who has CP to achieve as much independence as he can. It minimizes the effects of some of the limitations he has, and improves his quality of life as well as that of his family. Physiotherapy exercises are used to prevent or reduce joint stiffness, improve the strength of muscles, and prevent falling when walking, among others. These exercises are specific to the individual child as children with CP have different developmental needs. For example, a girl child with CP at puberty requires menstrual support unlike a boy child at puberty, and a child who can sit but cannot walk has different needs from a child who cannot sit.
If your child has CP, create a play space for him at home with colourful toys that will encourage him to reach for them. This helps him to move his hands and fingers. Also put him on his tummy with toys around him to encourage crawling towards the toys. He may need assistive devices to support sitting and standing. Involve your child in all family activities and treat him with love. All these will enable him to attain his developmental milestones gradually.
As a parent, you need to be involved in setting appropriate and realistic goals that will benefit your child. Some of these decisions include when to take your child to school, whether to enroll him in mainstream school or a special school, and additional nutritional support. Therapy is gradual so you need to be patient. Similarly, you need to provide activities appropriate to the age of your child that will stimulate him.
At the end of the day….
Children with CP require long term management. They have special needs. However, when managed appropriately, they may become adults who live independently, are gainfully employed, and have their own families. A lot depends on the opportunities and interventions you give to your child while growing up.
Written by: Bridget Numarce, physiotherapist.
Edited by: Babychildandco staff