Endeavouring to support your child with cerebral palsy can be difficult, but extremely rewarding for the child and the family as a whole. Finding strategies that work with the needs associated with cerebral palsy and the family unit is always a bit trial and error, and no two families or children will be the same.
This guide to supporting your child with cerebral palsy explores what cerebral palsy is and its typical symptoms, what are some of the causes, strategies to assist your child and family to thrive, and additional resources for support.*
What is Cerebral Palsy?
Cerebral palsy is an umbrella term referring to a group of conditions affecting motor skills, including the ability to control muscles, coordinate movement and maintain balance. Around 1 in 700 babies are diagnosed with cerebral palsy in Australia and is the most common motor disability in childhood, characterised by exaggerated reflexes, floppy or rigid limbs, and involuntary motions.
What Causes Cerebral Palsy?
Cerebral palsy occurs due to abnormal brain development before birth or brain damage during or shortly after birth. There are a range of factors that can cause cerebral palsy, including infections, medication, alcohol abuse during pregnancy, lack of oxygen at birth, malformation of the placenta, genetic disease, brain hemorrhage or blood type intolerance.
What Are The Symptoms of Cerebral Palsy?
Every person with cerebral palsy will present differently, but generally, symptoms include:
- Movement disorders (see more below)
- Spasm in one or more limbs
- Behaviour disorders
- Visual or hearing disorders
- Intellectual disability
- Slow motor movement
- Low muscle tone
- Issues with coordination and sequence of movements
Cerebral palsy is usually diagnosed in children, usually as a result of children not reaching movement related milestones. Some people will have only one symptom, while others may have multiple presentations of varying severity. People living with cerebral palsy may also have a secondary diagnosis, such as epilepsy, a mental health disorder, behavioural issue, sensory processing disorder, muscle atrophy or more.
Types of Disability: Movement Disorders
Cerebral palsy is most commonly characterised by movement disorders which can be divided into three common types - spasm, ataxia and athetosis.
This involves stiffness of the limbs due to high muscle tone, with a slow and limited sequence of movements affecting walking and other common movements. There are several different types of spasm, including tetraparesis (spasm of arms, legs, neck, head & torso), hemiparesis (spasm of one side of the body), diaparesis (spasm of legs), paraplegia (paralysis of arms and legs) and monoplegia (paralysis of one arm or leg).
This affects coordination and balance, characterised by choppy movements. People with ataxia have difficulty controlling their movements because they lack the ability to fine-tune their sequence of movement. As a result, movements are often not targeted and seem shaky, trembling or miss the mark. Often their gait pattern seems unsure, one leg sways apart and they can have an imbalance with compensation movements.
This includes strained, slow and instinctive movement patterns. People with athetosis have difficulty moving their limbs controllably, with their movements often looking jerky. Every small movement of compensation can lead to athetosis, making it difficult to stay in a certain position because the muscle tone changes permanently. For example, the muscle tone can change from relaxation to strain or a spasm within seconds.
6 Ways to Support Your Child with Cerebral Palsy
Cerebral palsy has no known cure or single effective treatment, but there are many ways to support your child or loved one with the condition. Here are some ways you can more effectively support someone living with cerebral palsy.
- Speak to your doctor about further options: Specialists are available to provide information, support and guidance on the best way to manage the impact of cerebral palsy on everyday life.
- Educate yourself about cerebral palsy: Take the time to understand the type of cerebral palsy you’re dealing with so you know how to better manage and live with the condition.
- Visit a therapist: Occupational, physical or speech therapy can help with a range of everyday tasks, including walking, writing, feeding, speaking, toileting, playing and moving.
- Use health aids: Walkers, orthosis, wheelchairs, special cutlery and patient lifters can all make everyday life easier. Consult an occupational therapist for advice on the right health aids.
- Passive movement: Movement is the key to preventing further stiffness and can improve perception and reduce pain. Regularly change position and move limbs passively if required.
- Try JettProof sensory clothing: JettProof may improve body awareness by relaxing the muscles in the case of spasm. It may also have a positive effect on posture and perception. Sensory clothing may assist to calm down your body, reduce sensory overwhelm and increase overall wellbeing.
There are a number of resources linked throughout this guide if you need additional resources for support or to better understand cerebral palsy as a condition.
About Jettproof Sensory Clothing & Cerebral Palsy
JettProof calming sensory clothing may assist children and adults living with Cerebral Palsy, as well as Autism, Sensory Processing Disorder, Asperger Syndrome, Down Syndrome, PTSD, Apraxia, Dyspraxia, ADHD and Anxiety. Stay up to date with the Jettproof journey by following us on Facebook and Instagram or by joining our mailing list to receive regular updates.
*Please note, Jettproof is not a medical or psychiatric provider and the following guide should not be used as diagnostic criteria or medical advice. We strongly advise speaking with medical and/or psychiatric professionals if you believe your child is experiencing symptoms of Cerebral Palsy.