A Parent’s Guide to Physical Therapy for Cerebral Palsy

Cerebral Palsy Treatments, Child Development, Tips for Parents

Young boy with cerebral palsy in physical therapy with female therapist

Each individual diagnosed with cerebral palsy may face special challenges, and no one-size-fits-all plan for treatment exists. Many individuals diagnosed with cerebral palsy (CP) experience significant physical setbacks. As a result, physical therapy for cerebral palsy is often a core element of treatment. Your child’s team of healthcare professionals can work with you to determine a specific plan for treatment based on your child’s needs. Early intervention is key to addressing the challenges that a child with cerebral palsy may face. This guide will give you an overview of physical therapy and help you know what to expect.

What Does Physical Therapy for Cerebral Palsy Address?

Physical therapy is designed to address physical challenges and is focused on helping individuals control their body and prevent injury. By increasing functional control of the body, an individual may be able to increase motor skills for daily living and overall independence.

Many children with a cerebral palsy diagnosis experience difficulty with standing, walking and using stairs. Physical therapy can also help them with mastering the use of equipment such as leg braces or a wheelchair as well as other assistive devices for children with CP. A physical therapist can assess your child and determine a treatment plan based on the child’s strengths, weaknesses and goals. The following items may be addressed in your child’s physical therapy:

  • Muscle tone
  • Balance
  • Motor skills
  • Mobility
  • Flexibility
  • Hand-eye coordination

What Activities Will Be Used in Physical Therapy?

A physical therapist develops all the activities used in physical therapy and tailors them to meet a child’s abilities. The therapist can determine activities that focus on your child’s strengths while encouraging him or her to acquire new skills and learn to use adaptive equipment. Some forms of adaptive equipment include braces, orthotics, walkers or wheelchairs. Your child may do the following activities during physical therapy:

  • Endurance exercises
  • Stretching
  • Exercise using equipment such as weights, resistance bands or balance balls
  • Recreational games that increase coordination (such as throwing and catching a ball)
  • Other activities such as swimming or dancing
  • Training in adaptive equipment

What Are the Benefits of Physical Therapy?

Physical therapy can have many lasting benefits for both the child receiving it and the family caring for the child. Perhaps one of the most compelling benefits of physical therapy for cerebral palsy is increasing strength and control to minimize atrophy or contracture of the muscles. During physical therapy, individuals learn strategies for adapting to their environment and using alternative techniques for completing everyday tasks that may pose a challenge to them. These techniques, as well as adaptive equipment, can increase independence and give a child the tools he or she needs to participate in everyday activities.

Physical therapy can also benefit the family. As a child’s independence increases, the level of care required by the family may be able to decrease. As physical abilities steadily increase, these physical developments may free you to focus on the social, emotional and educational needs of your child. Many children with cerebral palsy are able to successfully participate in recreational and social activities with the help of physical therapy, according to the American Physical Therapy Association.

How Do Parents Qualify To Receive Physical Therapy for Their Children?

Physical therapy for children diagnosed with cerebral palsy is explained under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). This act governs the laws and provisions for special education and therapeutic services for individuals with various disabilities. Both early intervention (birth through 3 years old) and school-based services (3 to 21 years old) are covered under IDEA. Even if your child has not received an official diagnosis, he or she may still qualify for early intervention services. Once an official diagnosis has been given, an Individual Family Service Plan (IFSP) can be developed to determine your child’s needs and appropriate services.

Early intervention services may include:

  • Physical therapy
  • Speech therapy
  • Occupational therapy
  • Family counseling
  • Training for parents
  • Assistive technology
  • Transportation assistance

Once your child reaches school age, contractors from your local public school district will provide these services. The IFSP transitions to an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). The IEP outlines your child’s specific goals and the interventions and services provided to help your son or daughter achieve these goals. School-based services may include:

  • Physical therapy
  • Speech therapy
  • Occupational therapy
  • Counseling
  • Assistive technology
  • Classroom and communication aids
  • Adaptive equipment or materials

Obtaining the appropriate interventions and therapies can ensure independence and a high quality of life for individuals with cerebral palsy. Without physical therapy, an individual could face greater risk of injury and long-term physical pain due to poor muscle control.

Physical therapy and equipment can place a significant strain on your family’s finances. However, if you believe that your child’s CP may have been caused by medical malpractice, the Cerebral Palsy Family Lawyers at Janet, Janet & Suggs, LLC may be able to help. Contact us today to see if you have a case for compensation.

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