Practical resources to help family caregivers in the midst of caring for someone

Occupational therapy for children with cerebral palsy

What is cerebral palsy?

Cerebral Palsy (CP) is a neuromotor condition that causes difficulty with motor control or loss of motor control.  It is caused by an injury to the developing brain before, during, or shortly after birth. People who have cerebral palsy are not all affected by the condition in the same way.  Since the timing, amount, and nature of the initial cause of CP can be very different for all persons who have it, the functional limitations experienced by the condition will be different for everyone.  Occupational Therapy treatment can help children with cerebral palsy live a fulfilling and active life.

How does an Occupational Therapist help someone with cerebral palsy?

Occupational Therapists (OTs) are important health care professionals on the health care team for persons with CP, along with their family and school caregivers. This is because OTs can help people with CP function with greater success and ultimately have a better quality of life. For OTs who work with children, this often means finding ways for a child to have fun and be able to participate in all of the typical childhood activities such as attending school, going to birthday parties, and playing with friends.  

With overarching goals of improving function and quality of life, Occupational Therapists impact the lives of children with CP in a variety of ways. OTs can:

  • Help improve access within schools and community places such as parks.
  • Recommend equipment and strategies for more successful interactions with friends and family.
  • Help find solutions to access leisure activities.
  • Help persons with CP achieve their life aspirations.  

Occupational Therapists work with clients and their families to determine the goals and objectives that are important and relevant for the individual and family. Since the goals will be different for each person, then the solutions may also vary according to the child and family. As a parent or family caregiver of a child with cerebral palsy, your input and insights are valuable contributions to this discussion.

Occupational Therapists help improve accessibility

One way Occupational Therapists can help children with cerebral palsy is to improve access to their environments. OTs can assess an environment such as a school or community space to determine barriers to participation and then make recommendations to modify the physical aspects of the environment to allow the child to move around with greater ease and safety. For example, a child with CP may benefit from having an OT make recommendations to change the layout of a classroom, to install equipment to improve safe access in a bathroom, or to access the playground to play with friends.

Another way OTs can be helpful is by improving positioning, physical support, and mobility for children with CP. Occupational Therapists are trained to assess and recommend solutions for people with CP to have the physical support their bodies need so that they can interact, see, and more easily communicate with others in their chosen environment. Specialized chairs or modifications can be suggested so that a child with CP can be more comfortable and thus participate in peer or school interactions for longer periods of time or with less pain and effort. Additionally, Occupational Therapists can recommend suitable wheelchairs for people with CP, and then help them and their family caregivers or educators learn how to use the wheelchair safely to move around.

Occupational Therapists help improve skills for daily living activities

Occupational Therapists help children with CP and their caregivers learn the skills to perform daily activities safely and successfully. For example, OTs can recommend and then teach children with cerebral palsy and their family caregivers how to successfully transfer the child from his/her wheelchair to another surface such as a bed or a commode. OTs can recommend assistive devices that will make daily activities such as bathing, eating, or dressing much easier.  

OTs may also suggest changes to the way an activity is performed so that a person with CP can have more success with that task. For example, an OT may suggest that a child record his or her thoughts using voice-to-text or word-prediction technology instead of manually writing information. This is a good example of how an OT might choose technology to modify an activity to allow a child more success and independence at school.  

Sometimes, Occupational Therapists are most impactful in a child’s life by helping the child, their family, and their other caregivers see the possibilities in the child’s life. By recommending ways to modify environments and activities for success, and by suggesting strategies for improved independence with daily activities, an OT is working on goals that are important for the child and his or her family, and ultimately spreading hope and happiness in that child’s life.   



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