How are the Symptoms of Cerebral Palsy Most Commonly Managed?

doctor with kidCerebral Palsy is a lifelong medical condition that has no cure. However, timely intervention can improve a child's abilities and his or her quality of life. With a comprehensive treatment plan, children can live healthy, productive lives. The earlier a parent intervenes and begins treatment, the better a child's outcomes will be.

Treatment for cerebral palsy focuses on management of symptoms. Since many types of cerebral palsy exist and each child experiences the disorder differently, treatment requires an individualized approach. Once a health care provider confirms a diagnosis of cerebral palsy and determines the type of disorder present, he or she will develop a specific treatment plan that meets the child's needs.

Elements of a Treatment Plan

A comprehensive treatment plan takes into consideration the child's specific disabilities and symptoms. Effective intervention is a process that may involve the following health professionals or disciplines:

  • A physical therapist to provide treatment that improves gait, reduces spasticity of the muscles, and prevents future deformities.
  • An occupational therapist helps a child succeed in age-appropriate activities of daily living such as dressing and attending school.
  • A speech and language pathologist helps address impediments to speech and swallowing disorders.
  • A behavioral therapist can help address any psychological or emotional issues that may arise as a child gets older and becomes aware of his or her disability.

Additionally, a treatment plan may consist of medical interventions such as:

  • Surgery to loosen any tight muscles
  • Orthotic devices and braces to address any muscle imbalances and to improve a child's posture
  • Communication devices such as computers, PECs boards, or voice synthesizers to help the child speak with others
  • Devices to aid mobility, if necessary
  • Medications to control seizures or other comorbid medical conditions

A comprehensive plan begins with an evaluation that determines the extent of a child's disability. Based on these results, a provider will design a treatment schedule that gives the child the best chance at living a life comparable to that of his or her peers. State resources, such as the Early Intervention program, also exist to help deliver these services.

Continuing a Treatment Plan

Children with a diagnosis of cerebral palsy may receive treatment through medical systems as well as through their local school district. Regardless of the types of therapy a child receives and its intensive nature, treatment does not begin and end at the facility. Parents play an integral role in the delivery of services and the ultimate success of a child's interventions.

Members of the interdisciplinary treatment team often act as coaches, giving parents tips and techniques to apply at home to encourage a child's success. Studies show that parental support is one of the most important determining factors in a child's success. Family members play a crucial role in helping individuals with cerebral palsy reach their goals and live productive lives.

In the short term, therapy may consist of helping children master certain skills. However, the ultimate goal of cerebral palsy treatment is to help children achieve an appropriate level of independence for their particular circumstance.

As a child develops, so may his or her need for services. Some children naturally lose the need for speech services, for example, while others will need more intensive occupational therapy as expectations change. Many children, especially as they approach adolescence, benefit from counseling to address the psychological issues that may arise.

As adolescents enter adulthood, some may require caregivers, such as an aide to live independently. Some don't require any supportive care and can hold regular employment. The outcome of each individual depends on the unique circumstances of his or her condition and the overall success of the intervention.