The earlier a child is treated for cerebral palsy, the better chance the child has to improve mobility and cognitive development. Early intervention takes advantage of the body’s greater resiliency in youth.
But even after early treatments, cerebral palsy must be well managed over a person’s lifetime. As those with cerebral palsy grow into adolescence, adulthood, and older age, their needs may change and they may require different treatment approaches.
Cerebral palsy can involve a number of different disabilities and complications, so treatment is multidisciplinary. That means treatment involves visits to doctors and care providers from various specialties.
Depending on a person’s particular needs, any of the following types of healthcare professionals may participate in the treatment team:
- A developmental pediatrician diagnoses cerebral palsy and tracks a person’s overall physical, emotional, and cognitive development.
- A neurologist, possibly more than one if the person has a seizure disorder, may prescribe medications designed to address a person’s brain injuries.
- A physical therapist helps a person manage physical difficulties.
- An occupational therapist helps a person learn everyday living skills.
- A speech therapist helps with language development.
- An orthopedic surgeon recommends and performs surgeries.
- A respiratory therapist helps with breathing problems.
- A nutritionist or dietitian recommends a healthy diet.
- Psychologist(s) assess a person’s behavior.
- Psychiatrists may help those who have a coexisting mental health disorder.
- A therapist or counselor provides therapy for mental health difficulties.
Different Types of Therapy
One of the most important parts of the treatment plan for someone with cerebral palsy is the use of different therapies to teach her skills and compensate for the challenges the condition presents. (1)
- Physical therapy focuses on improving a person’s muscle strength, balance, and motor skills. It involves stretching, strength and conditioning workouts, swimming, and other activities specially designed to improve certain muscle groups.
- Occupational therapy helps a person do the most he can, especially with the upper body, so he can get dressed, maintain personal hygiene, care for himself, eat, do school or work activities, and complete other necessary daily skills.
- Speech and language therapy not only help with verbal communication but also help a person deal with swallowing difficulties. For those who cannot speak or have trouble speaking, speech and language therapy may actually focus finding other ways to communicate effectively with others.
- Recreational therapy uses involvement in sports, cultural, and artistic activities. It helps a person’s mind and body stay sharp, and promotes social skills, self-esteem, and overall well-being.