When your child is diagnosed with cerebral palsy (CP), early treatments can really improve their life. They will focus on ways to help them get around more easily, reduce pain, and succeed at daily tasks.
CP can affect your child in many ways, such as the way that they walk, hold things, talks and eats. There’s no one-size-fits all treatment for the condition. The condition affects each child differently.
Once your child is diagnosed, your child will not only be followed by their pediatrician, but have a medical team that may include a neurologist and an orthopedist. The doctor will want to see them on a regular basis to make sure the treatments are helping to improve the way that they act and feel.
Your doctor will decide how frequent your office visits will be, based on how mild or severe the CP is, among other things. As a rule, children with cerebral palsy visit the doctor more often than other kids. They tend to have more health issues that require treatment.
Your child’s doctor may want to send them to physical therapy as early as possible so they can learn how to move with better balance, strengthen their muscles or maintain their current muscle tone. They’ll do exercise to help stretch their muscles, which may reduce spasms. They’ll get a special exercise program that’s tailored to their need.
It’s harder to complete daily tasks like getting dressed, brushing teeth, using scissors and writing on the classroom board when you have movement issues. An occupational therapist can give your child extra help with chores like these, based on their own needs, to help them improve at the tasks that they does at home and at school. They will also help put into place adaptive technology to support your child in the classroom.
Some children with cerebral palsy have trouble speaking well because the muscles that work their mouths are affected. If your child needs help, a speech and language therapist may help them learn to form words and speak more clearly. If your child isn’t able to speak, they can learn other ways to communicate, such as sign language.
If CP affects your child’s mouth and throat muscles, they may drool or have eating problems. Therapy that can teach them how to better control these muscles, including their tongue, and help to improve those issues.
A device like a brace or splint may make it easier for your child to walk or move their arms. Other equipment, like special chairs, can help make your child more comfortable when they sit.
For more severe forms of CP, your child may need a walker, scooter, or wheelchair to get around, or special computer software to help them communicate if they are unable to speak on their own. There are even special-made tools like forks to pencils to make everyday tasks easier.
Cerebral palsy often causes muscle spasms in different parts of the body. Your child’s doctor may prescribe medicine to relax those muscles and make it easier for them to move around with more control. The type of drug they will receive depends upon their symptoms and how mild or severe the condition is.
Some drugs, often for mild cases, are taken by mouth. Another drug is injected. And a medication for severe cases is given through an implanted pump.
Children whose muscles are very stiff or spastic may have surgery to lengthen some leg muscles or tendons. This can make walking easier and less painful. Doctors may hold off on this type of surgery until a child has reached a certain age or level of development. This can help ensure that the surgery doesn’t lead to long-term problems.
Some children whose severe muscle spasms can’t be controlled with drugs, physical therapy, or other means may have surgery. The surgeon may cut nerves in the spinal column that are overactive. This can help the problem muscles relax, and it may lead to less pain.