Cerebral Palsy is a medical condition that involves complete or partial paralysis of certain muscles of the body, usually in the legs and arms. A leg, arm or hand can either be stiff with weak, jerky movements or completely immobile. This can affect both arms and legs, both legs, or an arm, leg and trunk muscles on either side of the body. The child who has this condition may not be able to learn to walk and may have to use a wheelchair. For the child with cerebral palsy, fine motor movements are very difficult. Raising a cup to the lips may require many attempts and still not be possible.
It is caused by a brain abnormality and a child’s hearing, vision, and speech may also be affected. Sometimes children with cerebral palsy are also mentally retarded to some degree. Others may be exceptionally intelligent. Cerebral palsy may not be noticed until towards the end of the baby’s first year of life. The main symptom is the stiffening of the legs and arms and this doesn’t usually happen until six months of age. Children who do not walk on time or fail to walk at all are deprived of the opportunity to learn by exploring their environment, something that all children need to do. If the cerebral palsy is accompanied by hearing, speech or vision problems, the situation is even worse.
Treatment for this disorder is a team effort that involves parents, doctors, physical therapists and perhaps speech therapists. At a later date the child’s teachers will need to be involved.
Physical therapy will always be involved. And physical therapy has helped some children learn to walk with aids such as crutches and braces. Orthopedic surgeons can also perform operations to make movement easier. If the child has hearing problems as well, these can often be helped with a hearing aid or cochlear implant. Children with cerebral palsy often have crossed eyes and this condition can be corrected surgically. Glasses can be prescribed for other visual problems. Speech therapy improves speaking ability. All of these are important. Children of average and high intelligence who have cerebral palsy become very frustrated when they have problems communicating or when their mobility is limited. This may also result in emotional problems. Upon entering school, children with cerebral palsy are entitled to and receive special education services according to their individual needs.
These services include physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, and academic assistance in the classroom if required. It is important that parents of a child with cerebral palsy take the child for regular examinations by a physician and other health care professionals as needed in order to track the child’s progress. The medical field continues to advance along with other technologies. The prospects and opportunities for a child born with cerebral palsy today are much improved over those fifty years ago. New technologies and new treatments continue to emerge. It is important that parents keep up with the progress in the field. There are associations that parents can join for support and help in doing this.