Treating cerebral palsy: occupational therapy
Occupational therapy plays a large role in the development of a child with Cerebral Palsy. The job of an occupational therapist is to hone the ability of the fine-motor skills and small muscles, which include hands, feet, mouth, fingers and toes. An occupational therapist will likely advise you and your child on easier methods of feeding, dressing and everyday mobility. They will also help you find the specialized equipment your child needs to help him in everyday activities, such as modified spoons and cups for easier feeding, toys that will help the development of motor skills and seats, wheelchairs, pushchairs, standing frames, walking frames and side lying boards that will help improve your child’s mobility, posture, etc.

It is also the job of an occupational therapist to help make your home and community accessible to your child. Many adaptations may needs to be accommodated in order for your child to reach his maximum level of independence. For instance, because children with Cerebral Palsy often have problems with their posture and muscle tension, a chair may need to be adapted with creative use of foam in order for the child to sit comfortably. Things such as the Rifton Corner Seat aid in a child’s ability to sit on the floor while playing, without stressing the leg muscles and while keeping the child’s posture upright.

When you and your occupational therapist are considering your child’s seating needs, it is important to obtain a clear idea of what final outcome you are looking to achieve. “Some seating is very bulky. Many special seats have trays in front of them, which means that the child is unable to join the rest of the family at the dinner table. Many chairs available on the market depend on numerous straps to hold the child in place. I don’t think I would have been very comfortable as a child if several parts of my body were strapped down every time I sat in a chair. On the other hand, chairs which do not rely on straps probably require the child to put in some effort to keep their posture correct. Thus, sitting down becomes an activity rather than an act of relaxation. If your child clearly needs special seating it might be worth considering the option of more than one chair, perhaps one for relaxing and one for active sitting.”

In addition to helping your child find comfortable seating, it is important that your child stand for a portion of the day. While movement is necessary to stop muscles from becoming atrophied, for children with Cerebral Palsy standing takes the weight from the hips to the feet, allowing the hip joint to develop more regularly. Hip dislocation is a common problem in children with Cerebral Palsy, and allowing the joint to develop adequate strength will help to avoid such dislocations. If a child is unable to stand on his own, there are many standing frames available. If a child is able to stand on his own but can manage with an adult’s assistance, purchasing a standing frame may not be necessary. Activities such as holding your child’s hips and supporting him in a standing position while he leans against a sofa or low table can be just as effective in allowing your child’s joints to grow healthfully. Toilet seats can be specialized to help children with Cerebral Palsy develop this independent function without the need of assistance.

Occupational Therapists are also trained to evaluate the child’s sensory system to determine whether a primary sensory deficit is present or whether a child has difficulty processing sensory information. Sensory Integration refers to the ability to evaluate the relative importance of all sensory inputs acting on the body, on the basis of a child’s current posture, previous movement experiences and movement expectations. A child with Cerebral Palsy may experience sensory integration dysfunction as a result of central nervous system damage, or sensory integration dysfunction might develop secondary to the limited sensory experiences that these children have as a result of their limited motor abilities. Occupational therapy will help determine your child’s abilities and will help to form reasonable goals to help your child reach.

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