Behavioral Modification Therapy and Cerebral Palsy

Cerebral Palsy Therapies, Cerebral Palsy Treatments

Tree in the shape of two human faces—one lush, the other leafless

Between 25 and 30% of children with cerebral palsy also have a behavioral disorder. Many other children with cerebral palsy also find interacting socially with others difficult. Behavioral modification can help these children regulate their bodies and moderate their emotions.

What Is Behavioral Modification?

Behavioral modification is a common psychotherapy technique that replaces problematic cerebral palsy behaviors with more socially acceptable behaviors. This technique encourages children to think about the consequences of their actions. It has had great success for children experiencing cerebral palsy behavioral issues.

How Does It Treat Cerebral Palsy?

Behavioral modification can treat a wide range of common cerebral palsy behavior problems, including:

  • Lack of control of body parts
  • Mobility difficulties
  • Difficulty regulating emotions
  • Reluctance to adopt healthy habits, including hygiene and chores

Behavioral modification encourages children with cerebral palsy to understand their actions have consequences. This greater understanding encourages children with cerebral palsy to try harder and make better choices.

During behavioral modification therapies, therapists and their clients’ parents schedule activities that encourage positive behaviors. Therapists may also role-play with children during behavioral modification therapy. For example, if children have problems keeping their temper under control, the therapist may play-act a situation that challenges the child’s emotions. Constant monitoring and tracking measures progress. Behavioral modification therapy can be used on its own or with physical therapy.

Types of Behavioral Modification

There are several different types of behavioral modification. These techniques have varying degrees of success with children with cerebral palsy:

  • Positive and negative reinforcement: This technique commonly uses rewards to reinforce good behavior, and negative consequences to discourage undesirable behavior.
  • Aversion therapy: This technique uses negative consequences to discourage undesirable behavior.
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy: This technique teaches people that irrational or unreasonable thoughts may cause negative habits. Challenging these thoughts aims to correct these behaviors.
  • Token economy method: This technique rewards positive behavior with tokens. Patients collect and redeem tokens for prizes or privileges.

Modern behavioral interventions for cerebral palsy typically focus on the positive and negative reinforcement type of behavioral modification. That’s because this type of behavioral modification provides instant, easily understood feedback. It is therefore suitable for children with varying cognitive abilities.

More specifically, modern behavioral modification for children with cerebral palsy focuses on rewarding positive behaviors with positive consequences, such as praise and attention, rather than punishing negative behaviors. The child repeats the positive behaviors to receive the reward. The positive reinforcements they receive may offset the pain some children feel when moving their bodies in certain ways.

Punishments are rarely used. However, children grow to understand failing to perform positive behaviors has a negative impact. For example, without behavioral interventions for cerebral palsy, children with cerebral palsy may notice they get attention when they refuse walking or neglect cleaning their teeth. With behavioral modification, they learn that they will only receive attention for positive behaviors.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy may also help high-functioning children with cerebral palsy. This technique might help children identify the negative thoughts that lead to tantrums, for example, and reframe them so tantrums don’t occur.
Aversion therapy was common in the past for children with cerebral palsy. One common technique was using electroshocks when children did not position their heads correctly. However, techniques that focus on positive results are now the preferred choice.

How Can I Determine If My Child Is a Good Candidate?

Your child may be a good candidate for behavioral modification if their behaviors negatively impact their own lives or the lives of people around them. The greater your child’s brain function, the more behavioral modification options will be available to them. However, even children with serious impairments should respond to positive reinforcement.

Children with different degrees of impairment need different treatment plans. Ideally, you should match your child with a therapist who has worked with children with a similar degree of disability before.

What to Ask Your Doctor About Behavioral Modification

You should involve your doctor in the treatment of your child’s cerebral palsy, including any therapy. Ask your doctor the following questions before starting a behavioral modification program:

  • Do you think my child is a good candidate for behavioral modification?
  • What degree of improvement do you think we could reasonably expect?
  • Do you know any developmental behavioral specialists who offer behavioral modification therapy to children with cerebral palsy?
  • Who do you think my child should see for behavioral modification therapy?
  • Why do you think this developmental behavioral specialist would be a good fit for my child?
  • Can you write me a referral for this developmental behavioral specialist?

You may like to make notes about your doctor’s answers. You can then review these notes later when organizing your child’s behavior modification therapy.

If you believe your child’s CP may be the result of medical negligence, contact the Cerebral Palsy Family Lawyers at Janet, Janet & Suggs. We have a long history of helping families receive financial compensation for their loved ones who suffer from cerebral palsy.



Giles Manley
Reviewed by:
Giles H. Manley, M.D., J.D., F.A.C.O.G. | CPFN Medical Advisor
Board-Certified OBGYN | Medical Malpractice Attorney

Dr. Manley has delivered over 2,000 babies and uses his wealth of medical knowledge to uncover medical errors that were missed by others (keep in mind most CP cases involve errors committed at or around the time of birth). READ FULL BIO

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