Cerebral palsy is the most common disability that affects children’s motor abilities. According to the CDC, about one in 345 children is diagnosed with cerebral palsy. While there is no cure, these individuals can remain healthy and active through various treatment options. One of the most integral parts of cerebral palsy treatment is occupational therapy.
What Is Occupational Therapy?
Occupational therapy is an interventional treatment focused on improving motor skills, balance, and coordination in children with cerebral palsy. It enhances their independence and hones their potential. Through practical activities in OT, they can perform daily tasks confidently and become productive members of the community.
Cerebral palsy causes a wide range of motor impairments, from stiffness to uncontrollable spastic movements. It has different types, so occupational therapists must tailor their treatment plans to the child’s specific needs.
An occupational therapist will assess the child’s motor, cognitive, and developmental skills. After determining the patient’s strengths and weaknesses, they will create an individualized program. This plan aims to improve the areas that will help the child reach functional independence.
What Do Children Do In Occupational Therapy?
Occupational therapy aims to enhance functional abilities. In simpler terms, OT develops the day-to-day skills required for a child to perform confidently and comfortably. Some activities include:
- brushing their teeth
- using silverware
- turning a doorknob
- dressing up
- reading and writing
- painting, drawing, and coloring
- moving around with mobility aids
By enabling children to do these simple tasks, they are encouraged to interact with their environment and function as independently as possible. These empower them to:
- accomplish self-care and grooming tasks
- create and maintain manageable routines
- effectively use adaptive tools
- interact with others
- behave in socially appropriate manners
What Are The Benefits Of Occupational Therapy?
Occupational therapy activities are practical and personalized. As a result, children acquire skill sets that will be useful to them throughout their entire lives. These practices teach and reinforce short-term and long-term skills, such as:
- completing basic tasks
- improving bodily control
- breaking down physical and psychological barriers that would hinder them from participating in society and exploring their passions and careers
The primary benefits of occupational therapy are:
- performing daily tasks and routines independently,
- improving motor and coordination skills so they can move more easily,
- developing critical thinking and problem-solving skills,
- learning interpersonal skills, so they can freely interact with others, and
- encouraging social integration.
Children with severe cerebral palsy could also benefit from the use of assistive devices. In these cases, occupational therapy would teach children how to use specialized tools, such as:
- rotating desks,
- equipment that shifts them from a lying to sitting position,
- computerized environmental control systems,
- specialized chairs for proper eating and breathing, and
- computers with pre-programmed language.
Parents can benefit from occupational therapy, as well. Therapists can counsel parents. They will suggest some activities they can do at home to support their children and optimize their skills. Parents can also receive tips on how to handle and teach their kids. They are encouraged to participate in the child’s treatment actively. Through occupational therapy, parents would find value in understanding how they can assist their children.
Occupational therapy addresses a person’s physical, sensory, visual, and social difficulties. It improves a child’s functioning in these areas. By developing their skills, children are encouraged to be more independent and enhance their self-esteem.
How Can You Find A Good Occupational Therapist?
The easiest way to find an occupational therapist would be through referrals from your primary healthcare provider. However, you must consider certain factors to ensure you get the best possible therapist, such as background, credentials, cost, and insurance.
You can conduct a simple check on the therapist through the Internet. Scheduling an appointment and asking them in person is also possible. You would want a therapist with significant experience in dealing with children with cerebral palsy. Make sure that they don’t possess false credentials or a history of malpractice.
In addition, occupational therapy can be expensive. So if you’re operating on a budget, make sure that the costs align with that. You can also check if your insurance covers them. If not, consider applying for legal compensations that could offer financial assistance, granted that you meet the criteria and requirements.
But undoubtedly, the most crucial factor is how they are with your child. If you notice anything off about the therapist, listen to your gut. Also, listen to your child and do not dismiss their discomfort. It’s essential to find an occupational therapist you can trust—someone who will treat your child with kindness and patience.
What Are The Effects Of Occupational Therapy For Children With Cerebral Palsy?
Children can absorb new information and pick up new skills faster than adults. It’s attributed to the plasticity of their brains. However, neuroplasticity decreases with age. That’s why early intervention is advisable for children with cerebral palsy. By addressing the child’s needs early on, they can learn and progress easier and quicker and retain these life skills as they grow older.
Occupational therapy for children with cerebral palsy promotes neuroplasticity, creating new neural connections and rewiring functions affected by brain damage. Optimizing neuroplasticity lies in repetitive practice. The goal of occupational therapy is to practice an activity or a specific movement so much that it becomes second nature to them.
Given these benefits, children with cerebral palsy need to undergo occupational therapy. Their brains are flexible enough, making it much easier for them to acquire new long-term skills, which would help build and increase their self-confidence and further optimize their functioning, independence, and potential. Finally, this would lead to a sense of belonging within their community and society as a whole.
Just because cerebral palsy is incurable doesn’t mean that children with the condition can’t and shouldn’t thrive in their environment. Have courage and patience. These, when coupled with therapy, can help children with cerebral palsy grow into healthy and happy individuals.