A Comprehensive Cerebral Palsy Resource

Caring for a Child

As soon as your child or toddler has received a diagnosis of cerebral palsy, it is important to get him or her involved in therapy immediately.  There are more therapies for cerebral palsy than you will have time for.

As a result, you will have to meet with a variety of professionals, experiment, and determine which therapies are effective for your child and which therapies he or she likes the most.  In many cases, professionals will assign tasks that are important for you to follow through with at home.

Besides therapy, there are many things you can do to provide more effective care at home.  Here are some of the common challenges you may face children with cerebral palsy and what you can do to overcome those challenges:

What Outcomes Should you Expect?

The exact outcomes for a child with cerebral palsy are not easily predicted, but in general, the long-term quality of life for your child depends on:

  • The severity of his or her cerebral palsy
  • The quality of therapy and the degree with which it is followed through at home
  • The types of professionals in place
  • The quality of the relationship between you and your child

The sooner you get your child the help he or she needs, the better his or her quality of life will be in the long run.

How Important is Patience?

Raising a child with cerebral palsy is associated with many challenges other families do not face, and that you may not have faced before.  As a result, keeping your patience may be difficult at times.  In order to keep your patience, acknowledge the situation is one that would frustrate anyone, focus on the small goals your child achieves, take some time out for yourself, join a support group, and seek counseling if you need to.

How Does Feeding Work with Children with Cerebral Palsy?

Because of their struggle with motor movements, mealtime is often a struggle for children with cerebral palsy.  Despite the fact mealtimes often take much longer than typical for children with cerebral palsy, many often end up  malnourished or under weight.

The most important consideration during mealtime is that your child receives the nutrition he or she needs to be healthy.  The second important point to keep in mind is assisting your child in being as independent as possible throughout the process.  Place food items just outside of his or her reach so he or she has to grasp the food and move it all the way to his or her mouth.

Do it as many times as possible, until you realize your child will not be able to tolerate the process any longer.  Be ready to handle any situations where your child is overly sensitive to a certain food.  Also be ready for any situations where child’s mouth becomes overly full because of a lack of sensitivity.  Whenever you encounter an overwhelming feeding situation, keep in mind there are a number of different professionals, such as occupational therapists, physiotherapists, and dietitians who can help you with any challenges you might face.

How do You Toilet Train a Child with Cerebral Palsy?

Because of the difficulty they have controlling their muscles, this can be a very challenging task for children with cerebral palsy.  Ensuring their diet is loaded with fruits, vegetables, and foods high in fiber makes elimination much easier.

Keep your mealtimes as regular as possible, and place your child on his or her potty chair about 30 minutes after he or she eats.  Be sure to reward him or her for any successes he or she might have.

How Can You Bathe Your Child Safely?

The best thing you can do is position your child so he or she feels secure.  Consult with an occupational therapist if you need additional help.  To assist your child in feeling secure, consider using a bath seat or partially inflated swimming tube.  As your child grows, your occupational therapist may recommend a lift to assist your child in getting in and out of the bathtub.  Grab bars in the shower and nonskid strips on the floor also help to increase safety.

How do You Help Your Child Make Friends?

Studies show children affected by physical, emotional, or intellectual disabilities experience the best quality of life when they are integrated as much as possible in “mainstream” classrooms.  Making friends can also be challenging for someone viewed as being different.

In order to provide your child with cerebral palsy for the greatest opportunity for making friends, there are some steps you can take:

  • Educate others about your child’s condition in order to reduce anxiety and fear (For example, explain why he or she needs the assistance of leg braces when walking and how they work.)
  • Include your child in appropriate after school groups and activities
  • Many schools and nonprofit organizations have social groups especially for children with disabilities – investigate these in your area.

Helping your child with cerebral palsy develop social connections is a challenging process.  However, if you keep trying every avenue available, eventually your child will develop healthy social relationships with others.  Don’t underestimate the positive effects this has in the life of your child.

How can You Best Help Your Child Develop his or her Physical and Intellectual Abilities?

As a parent of a child with cerebral palsy, you have two important responsibilities in this regard:

  • Follow through with all assigned therapy techniques and exercises
  • Assist your child in the least intrusive way possible

As your child may need a variety of therapies that require most of his or her time beyond normal school hours, it can be tempting to not follow through with all assigned therapy routines.  Your child will also experience frustration over the difficulty some of the techniques present.

However difficult and frustrating it may be, following through with all therapy techniques leads to the best long-term quality of life for your child.  Always keep your child in mind when you are struggling through difficult times.

At first, the second point seems harsh, but maybe an example will help to more clearly demonstrate the general point.  If your toddler clearly desires a certain toy that lies just a few feet away on the floor, your instinct may be to hand the toddler the toy.  This is okay if he or she lacks the ability to crawl.  However, if he or she has even the slightest ability to crawl, it’s best to allow him or her to struggle over the toy.

This helps the infant develop the gross motor skills necessary to gain independence.  Many parents unwittingly make the mistake of completing tasks for their child which the child can complete independently.  Unfortunately, this inhibits the child’s development and forces him or her to be dependent upon others to meet his or her needs, which harms his or her physical development and undermines self-esteem.