Cerebral palsy is a group of diverse conditions that cause varying levels of motor and sometimes mental dysfunction. Most children who suffer from cerebral palsy experience difficulty performing simple functions such as moving, speaking, and eating due to damaged nerves, tendons, muscles, and bones. There is also an increased chance of mental retardation in children who have cerebral palsy.
Unfortunately, there is no way to project whether or not a child will suffer from cerebral palsy. Even though there are certain controllable variables during early stages of pregnancy that can predict a possibility of cerebral palsy, most of the situations that may cause a child to develop this devastating and life-changing condition occur just before or during childbirth. An experienced and vigilant obstetrician can address a large number of these problems. Nonetheless, a moment’s distraction, clumsiness, or hesitation can inflict a lifetime of misery on a child and their parents.
On the other hand, with proper therapy, many people with cerebral palsy can still lead normal lives. Even those with very severe disabilities can improve their condition significantly, even though they will never be able to live independently.
Approximately 25% of children with cerebral palsy have mild involvement with few or no limitations in walking, self-care, and other activities. Approximately half are moderately impaired to the extent that complete independence is unlikely but function is satisfactory. Only 25% are so severely disabled that they require extensive care and are unable to walk.
Of the 75% of children with cerebral palsy who are eventually able to walk, many rely on mobility equipment. The ability to sit unsupported may be a good predictor of whether or not a child will walk. Many children who can sit unsupported by age 2 years eventually get to walk, while those who cannot sit unsupported by age 4 years probably will not walk. These children will use wheelchairs to move around.
People with milder forms of cerebral palsy have the same life expectancy as the general population. Those with severe forms of cerebral palsy typically have a shorter life span, especially if they have many medical complications.
Some studies have found that abnormalities of muscle tone or movement in the first several weeks or months after birth may gradually improve over the first years of life. In one study, almost 50% of very young infants thought to have cerebral palsy and 66% of those thought to have spastic diplegia outgrew these signs of cerebral palsy by age 7 years. Many children do not manifest full motor signs that are suggestive of cerebral palsy until aged 1-2 years. Thus, some propose that the diagnosis of cerebral palsy should be deferred until the child is aged 2 years.
There are many cases of children with cerebral palsy who grow up to have a normal life. Although this is possible, it is surely not an easy feat. To bring positive change in the condition of children who have cerebral palsy, they would have to undergo several therapies and would also have to be given special attention in schools.
Every child with cerebral palsy may need a different kind of therapy, according to the severity of the disorder. Teaching and training a child with this disorder is not a single person’s job. The major contributors in this case are the parents, who have to first cope with the fact that their child is different from others. It also includes the combined efforts of the physical therapist, doctors, special education teachers, and psychologists.
Physical therapists help children with cerebral palsy in developing simple motor skills. Physical therapy helps them in learning how to walk with their braces, as well as to stand and move around without help. They may also be taught to kick a ball and to ride a bicycle, provided the disability allows.
In addition to this, enrolling children in special schools will also do well with their development. Teachers at special schools are trained to teach children with disabilities. Teachers of special children are expected to show great patience with such children. In special schools, every child is given individual attention and the curriculum is also planned so as to cater to their individual needs. All this helps to develop the child’s abilities with a view to foster his independent / near independent functioning at a later stage.
Some children with cerebral palsy are capable of attending mainstream schools with normal children of their age. A teacher who has such child in her class need not change the whole curriculum, but needs to deal a little differently with the disabled child. One should understand that the child is not like the other kids and may take a little more time to understand or respond to what is happening in the class. However, they should not be treated very differently. These kids should not be judged only by their disability, but should be encouraged to think and participate in the activities of the class. It has been observed that children who attend regular schools from a very young age, show great improvement. It is also good for the other children in the class because this will develop feelings of compassion towards individuals who are different from them.
One very important thing to remember is that children with cerebral palsy may have a disability but that does not make them weak or incapable. Giving them training and teaching them skills to be independent from an early age would surely prove beneficial. One must keep in mind that children born with cerebral palsy are differently-abled kids, who have every right to live a normal and successful life.
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