How does cerebral palsy impact a child's development?

A child’s development can be impacted in numerous ways depending on the severity, location, and extent of the injury that caused the cerebral palsy. Generally, the developmental categories that can be impacted by cerebral palsy include gross motor movement and fine motor coordination. Birth injuries that cause cerebral palsy can also cause problems with sensory skills, language, and social/emotional development.

Categories of Development Impacted by Cerebral Palsy

1. Gross Motor Skills

Gross motor skills enable one to reach major milestones, such as head control, crawling, sitting, and walking. When these milestones are not met, physical therapy must be initiated right away to do the following:

  • Strengthen muscles
  • Prevent certain muscles from growing stiffer
  • Prevent opposite muscles from becoming weak and underdeveloped, thereby preventing severe joint and hip problems
  • Minimize joint and muscle problems that can cause pain and lead to further muscle and joint complications

2. Fine Motor Skills

Fine motor skills enable a child to perform certain tasks, such as holding a spoon or a pencil, manipulating small objects, and picking up pieces of cereal between the thumb and finger. There are special types of physical and occupational therapy that focus on improving these kinds of skills.

3. Sensory Skills

Sensory skills include hearing, seeing, tasting, touching, and smelling. A child with cerebral palsy may have difficulty processing information from these senses, which is called a sensory processing disorder. Children with sensory processing disorders may be hypersensitive, which means they may dislike being touched or dressed, startle easily at small sounds, and seem unable to tolerate normal lighting. On the other hand, children with sensory processing disorders may be hyposensitive, which means they seem restless, seek stimulation, and do not startle or respond to loud noises.

4. Language Skills

Muscle strength in the mouth and tongue are necessary for vocal sound control. Having the ability to hear and process sound also is important for the development of language. Children with cerebral palsy may lack these language skills, which will delay their ability to speak. At birth until five months of age, a baby that is developing normally will react to loud sounds, turn the head toward a sound source, watch the face of the person speaking, make pleasure and displeasure sounds (laugh, giggle, cry, fuss), and make noise when spoken to. Children who struggle with language production or comprehension, or have difficulty swallowing, may benefit from speech therapy.

5. Social and Emotional Development

Social and emotional developmental milestones are harder to pinpoint than signs of physical development. From birth to one year of age, a child who has trouble processing sensory input or who has poor movement due to a brain injury may have delays in the following areas:

  • Crying to express distress or to attract attention
  • Meaningful smiling at certain people, such as a mother
  • Fixating on a face
  • Laughing or making noises to attract attention
  • Playing games such as peek-a-boo
  • Responding to one’s own name

Adjustment and Rehabilitation for Cerebral Palsy

There are many ways to encourage children with cerebral palsy to overcome the challenges of performing everyday tasks. One way is to participate in occupational therapy, which is a type of therapy that focuses on how to perform everyday responsibilities such as brushing teeth or getting dressed. By providing the tools to actively participate in normal activities of daily living, occupational therapy adds to a child’s concept of self-worth.

Another important way to help children with cerebral palsy have a happy life is to teach those around them (including teachers, friends, and family members) how to interact with them in a respectful manner. This can include taking someone aside after witnessing an awkward or potentially insulting exchange and explaining that it is important to engage normally, without staring or shouting. It is useful to remind people to treat the child the same way they would treat others.

It always is important to have an awareness of what people are thinking, especially when it comes to those who have a disability that makes physical activity more challenging. Being patient and taking the time to engage in a way that helps the child with cerebral palsy learn how to perform an activity is of utmost importance. Providing encouragement and patiently doing activities together can make a huge difference. When children learn how to do activities themselves, it can greatly reduce the child’s feeling of helplessness. The power of patience and positive encouragement can greatly improve the lives of children with cerebral palsy.

Legal Help For Cerebral Palsy

If your baby has been diagnosed with cerebral palsy due to medical mistakes, please contact the nationally-recognized birth injury attorneys at Reiter & Walsh ABC Law Centers.  For decades, we have been helping families whose children have cerebral palsy throughout Michigan, Ohio, and the United States. We have numerous multi-million dollar verdicts that attest to our success, and we will fight to obtain the compensation you and your family deserve. We can evaluate your case for free to determine if your newborn suffered injuries due to the negligence of the physician or medical staff, and you never pay any money until we win your case.

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