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Occupational Therapy For Cerebral Palsy

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There are 17 million people who have cerebral palsy, and of that figure, approximately 34,000 live in Australia.  This means every 15 hours; a child is born with cerebral palsy in Australia.

Cerebral palsy is a life-long disability that requires an occupational therapist’s services to improve the quality of life.  Below, we illustrate the top 5 ways how an occupational therapist can make a profound difference in helping a child with cerebral palsy experience:

  • Independence in daily tasks
  • Assisted Equipment
  • Participating socially in everyday life
  • Specific Therapies
  • Relieving stress from the family and assisted care

How Can An Occupational Therapist Help A Child With Cerebral Palsy

The first thing the occupational therapist does is perform an in-depth assessment of the child and speak with the parents in order to obtain their goals and understand the extent of the treatment needed.  During this period, the parents will also be provided with an understanding of what will be included as far as work, goal setting, expectations and future plans.

The benefits of having an occupational therapist are positive and far-reaching for the child, family, and caregivers.  An occupational therapist can assist with teaching your child independence through a daily routine. This benefit allows the child to conquer everyday tasks leaving a feeling of accomplishment and to support the family members.

This independence allows for greater social participation with friends and family.  The child progressively learns to handle life’s demands.  Not being reliant on other people for basic daily chores leaves them free to :

  • Develop relationships
  • Improves mood
  • Go after educational ambitions
  • Achieve employment, and
  • Exercise financial independence

This furthers the social interaction with their friends and community.

If a child with CP requires adaptive equipment, occupational therapists can teach the child how to excel in using the equipment and technology available.  Having the Occupational Therapist’s skills and knowledge available makes a significant difference in the parent’s primary concern, the child’s quality of life.

Occupational therapy addresses the main fears and concerns of the parents while simultaneously empowering the child.  With proper treatment and the right tools, future prospects are productive and possible for the child to grow into a well-adjusted, independent adult.  The fruits of their labor will be friends and career, among other things.  Here are the top ways that an occupational therapist can help your child with Cerebral palsy.

Top 5 Ways An Occupational Therapist Can Help Your Child With Cerebral palsy

Occupational therapists will focus on different areas to help the child master skills and build muscle control.  The top things that will be focused on are:

  1. Daily Routines Management
  2. Assisted Equipment Mastery
  3. Successful Sensory Processing
  4. Specific Muscle Therapies
  5. Parental Tools & Resources

Daily Routines Practice

Occupational therapists will focus first on self-care.  Self-care is essential in everyday life to live independently.  Living independently plays a vital role in mood and taking the stress out of the family environment.  Children want autonomy.  Being able to care for yourself builds self-esteem and the ambition needed to conquer more challenges. The focus will be on:

  • Fine Motor Skills: Exercises to improve hand muscle strength and finger isolations will be practiced.  Pinching exercises will help in precision and grasping.  Squeezing clothespins or a pencil, squirt guns, pushing items into fixed slots, and other exercises will be used to finesse fine motor skills.
  • Bilateral Coordination: These exercises involve playing with items that focus on controlling both sides of the body simultaneously.  This includes drumming, clapping, Legos, or even pushing on a large object along a table.
  • Building Upper Body Strength: This is important in being able to shift and control the weight of your own body.  Exercises such as playing catch or crawling along the floor aids in this pursuit.  This includes shifting weight across the middle of their body, focusing on controlling both sides of the body to work in tandem.
  • Visual-Motor Skills: Improving hand-eye coordination and visual perception through drawing, stringing beads, and exercises like puzzles will tremendously enhance these skills.
  • Activities of Daily Living: Practice makes perfect.  The occupational therapist will assist the child in performing daily activities such as preparing food, using a telephone, a computer, personal grooming, getting dressed, eating – all of the things that take place in an ordinary day.  As these things are mastered, the child will begin to gain their independence, and you will see the child bloom into their own.

The problem-solving skills that are part of learning the daily rituals will help in teaching the child what is expected of them to live independently.

Assisted Equipment Practice

If assisted equipment is necessary, the occupational therapist will teach the child how to use this equipment to function independently.  Assisted equipment can mean any of the following:

  • Computers and software
  • Ordinary home devices
  • Orthotic devices
  • Braces and splints
  • Wheelchairs
  • Access to communication devices

They will also help with other furniture or equipment to correct muscle abnormalities, improve function, or help in communicating.  All of these devices will help in daily chores and function independently.

Sensory Processing

Sensory processing improves the interpretation of information coming into the senses from the surrounding environment.  With improved interpretation, the child is better able to respond appropriately.  This can help with sleep disorders and integration into different environments, such as busy classrooms and shopping centers.

Some of these exercises include playing with Play-Doh, sand, water, and other items being exposed to the senses to guide the child how to react.  Improved sensory processing helps in self-soothing, which provides them to focus on the environment around them more clearly and respond accordingly.  This practice also helps with emotional regulation skills.

Specific Therapy Techniques

Constraint-Induced Movement is often used to attempt moving specific parts of the body that are weaker.  The stronger part of the body is restrained, which encourages the weaker part to strengthen and train.

Occupational therapists have a vast amount of knowledge and resources at their disposal to utilise specific therapies to help your child achieve every goal they set.  Even household appliances can be fashioned as treatment tools.

Most specific therapies surround the playing of games, which is both entertaining and educational for the child.  They will be building their strengths, and not even realise it because the task at hand is so much fun.  The more practice time that is available in real-life situations, the better the outcome is, just like anything in life to succeed.

Parental Tools & Resources

Parenting strategy can be difficult when faced with the added challenges that cerebral palsy brings.  It can be extremely overwhelming, especially if you are unsure of the resources out there.  Occupational Therapists can provide valuable resources and give you the knowledge you need to create a beneficial environment for your child to practice their independence.

Your child will learn valuable information right along with you to allow them to maximise their potential.  Having an Occupational Therapist will be a benefit for your child and you.  Occupational therapy improves daily functioning, supporting healthy living, and is most beneficial when started at a young age.

By focusing on these skills, your child will significantly benefit with:

  • Manageable daily routine
  • Participation in school, work, and leisure activities
  • Work and play independently
  • Improved sensory processing
  • Build self-esteem and confidence
  • Compensate for limitations or areas of difficulty
  • Know how to problem-solve
  • Have a sense of autonomy and identity
  • Adapt to skills to challenges and abilities
  • Established learning methods
  • Socially engage with others
  • Enhance the overall quality of life with independence and happiness
  • Feel a sense of their importance and need in the world

Having the skills of an occupational therapist are essential in promoting the well-being and prosperity of the child and everyone in your home.  Home-based programs are the ideal situation because there is more practice in daily routines and circumstances.

Learning these life and social skills are crucial in the child’s development.  The earlier you can start establishing a routine and game plan for treatment, the better off your child will be.

What Does An Occupational Therapist Meeting Look Like

Occupational therapists are in the business of helping people of any age to engage and immerse themselves in independent daily living fully.  Occupational therapists work with patients who have:

  • Cerebral palsy
  • Down Syndrome
  • ADHD
  • ADD
  • Autism
  • Global Developmental Delay

Occupational therapists help people function fully in school, work, and home, socially, physically, and mentally.  There are several different specialties within the field.  Occupational therapist meetings can take place in schools, homes, hospitals, and clinics.

Services of an occupational therapist generally include:

  • Individualised evaluations
  • Customised intervention
  • Outcomes evaluation

The occupational therapist will meet with the family to discuss the personal goals and assist them in meeting them.  Milestones and reevaluations will ensure that the person is reaching their goals and the intervention plan is working.

The occupational therapist often evaluates the work, home, or school to recommend adaptive equipment to enhance performance and train the person in using the equipment.  Additional guidance is presented to the family and caregivers.

Generally, Occupational Therapists practice holistic care and therapies that help adapt the environment to the person they are treating.  The person is an active participant in their treatment and the designing of goals they want to accomplish.  It is a very involved, tailored process. Setting their own goals can make them more motivating.  Just as cerebral palsy affects everyone differently, the treatment is customised to the individual.

The treatment of cerebral palsy to include independent living requires patience, knowledge, and resources.  Occupational therapists have the desired education and resources to help you in this endeavor.  Life training is not an overnight process, but with an occupational therapist, you will be able to assist your child in realising their goals.

Challenges that an Occupational Therapist Can Help You With

Cerebral palsy (CP) affects children differently in a wide range of physical and cognitive challenges.  The severity depends on how extensive the brain damage is.  Children can have difficulty in movement, which disrupts daily routine tasks and controlling bodily functions.  Other children can have trouble learning.  In the most severe cases, children may have trouble walking and talking all together.  Seizures are also not uncommon with cerebral palsy.

The thing to know about CP is that it isn’t any one thing.  The severity combined with the combination of other symptoms is individualised.  When preparing a treatment plan for CP, it is essential to remember that it is a group of disorders.  Challenges of cerebral palsy may include:

  • Trouble with fine motor skills (tying shoelaces, weakness in hand(s))
  • Lack of movement control and sporadic movements or tremors
  • Speech problems or inability to speak
  • Difficulty in life functions such as breathing, swallowing, bowel movements
  • Digestive and dental problems
  • Pain with symptoms
  • Behavioral problems that affect daily life
  • Intellectual and learning difficulties
  • Epilepsy
  • Hearing and Vision problems
  • Spinal and Hip abnormalities
  • Insomnia
  • Osteoporosis

The symptoms are different for everyone.  Generally, over half of the children with Cerebral palsy can walk on their own.  Although symptoms are experienced differently, doctors have a classification system according to major movement disorders.

  • Spastic cerebral palsy. This is the most common form for CP and deals with stiff muscles, and awkward movements typically affected one side of the body in either hands or legs.  Scoliosis and seizures are not uncommon. Children’s intelligence and language skills are usually typically developing unless it is a Spastic quadriplegia/quadriparesis case, which is the most severe case related to widespread brain damage.  In this case, there is a severe intellectual disability, and the likelihood of walking is slim.  Seizures are also more frequent and harder to control.
  • Dyskinetic cerebral palsy. This CP is related to slow and uncontrollable jerky movements of all appendages and face muscles.  Walking and sitting is a challenge.  Hearing problems, drooling, and controlling breathing is difficult in some of the cases.  Intelligence usually isn’t affected in this case.
  • Ataxic cerebral palsy. Balance and depth perception is challenged with this CP.  Quick movements or precise movements such as fine motor skills are hard to do because they can’t control voluntary movement.
  • Mixed types of cerebral palsy. This refers to a combination of muscle disorders.  Muscles may be extremely tight in some areas while too relaxed in others.

Cerebral palsy has a host of different challenges for all of the various symptoms, and many require ongoing therapy or assistive devices.  Some children require 24/7 care.  The good news is that having an occupational therapist can elevate a child’s experience of life significantly.

Treatments for Cerebral palsy

There are a variety of treatment options for cerebral palsy.  Treatments will be overseen by a medical care team for the many different symptoms, which can include a pediatrician, psychiatrist, and maybe a pediatric neurologist.  Specific treatment combinations may include:

  • Medications that can ease muscle tightness and help with pain management. This can include muscle and nerve injections, which are provided about every three months.  There are also oral muscle relaxants if your child is able to take them.  Medications have a range of uses and should be coupled with therapies.
  • Surgery is also an option in order to lessen muscle tightness or correct bone abnormality. However, generally physical therapy is recommended first.

The treatment that is selected largely depends on the symptoms of the patient and the family’s ideal treatment plan in order to help the child accomplish their full potential.  Your doctor will provide you with different options that offer the best success rates and ease the symptoms that your child is challenged with.

Final Thoughts

Hearing that your child has been diagnosed with cerebral palsy can be devastating and overwhelming.  The good news is that through research and the technology that has developed, combined with the assistance of a knowledgeable occupational therapist, your child can live independently and achieve social and mental well-being.

There is no cure for cerebral palsy, and it will take the hard work of all involved.  Having an Occupational Therapist for your child can take the stress off of parents and caregivers while simultaneously giving autonomy to your child.  Providing your child with the daily skills needed to maneuver in:

  • School
  • Work
  • Home, and
  • Society

is imperative in promoting self-confidence and self-worth.  You don’t have to be in this alone.

Occupational therapists have the knowledge to assess the environments and the situation and recommend the use of assisted devices in order to adapt the child to excel in their endeavors.  Both the child and the parents will understand how to use the equipment.  The biggest concern from parents with a child that has been diagnosed is the quality of life.

The proper support system can alleviate that concern.  Occupational therapy is designed to teach the necessary skills for daily functioning and establishing the quality of life most desired for your child.  All you need to do is reach out for the assistance so your child can reach their dreams.

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