Cerebral Palsy and ADHD
This article has been fact checked by a Board Certified Pediatric Nurse Practitioner. Sources of information for the article are listed at the bottom.
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Cerebral palsy often comes with a number of associative disorders. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, better known as ADHD, is an example of a co-existing condition that a number of children with cerebral palsy face. ADHD affects more kids with CP when compared to the general population.
What is ADHD?
According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), ADHD is considered a brain disorder characterized by chronic inattentiveness, impulsiveness, and hyperactivity that can interfere with daily tasks and functioning. Some children have problems with poor focus, while others have issues with hyperactivity and number of children have issues in both categories.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that in 2011, around 11% of children, 4-17 years of age in the U.S., were diagnosed with ADHD. Around 19% of children who have cerebral palsy also have ADHD.
The most common signs and symptoms of ADHD include:
- Overlooking details, whether small or important, on a consistent basis
- Making careless errors
- Failure to listen when someone is speaking
- Easily distracted
- Constantly losing things, such as homework, school supplies, etc.
- Failure to finish school work, household chores, or other tasks
- Difficulties in organizing tasks and activities
- Difficulties remember important dates and turning in homework
- Fidgeting around while seated
- Constantly moving around
- Feeling restless
- Frequently interrupts conversations, games, and/or activities
- Trouble waiting their turn
- Jumping up from seat during class time or other times when being seated is expected
There are a number of risk factors that contribute to children developing ADHD. However, scientists and researchers are still unsure of exactly what causes it. Possible risk factors include genetics, environmental toxin exposure during pregnancy, drinking and/or smoking during pregnancy, low birth weight, and brain injuries. Boys tend to develop ADHD more than girls, but girls that do develop ADHD, generally have issues with inattention. They’re less likely to be hyperactive/impulsive.
There are several treatment options available that have proven beneficial to many children with ADHD. Since each child is different, it’s always important to figure out the best treatment plan by consulting with your child’s physician and other medical experts.
The first line of treatment for ADHD is typically behavioral therapy. It’s a form a psychotherapy that focuses on helping children change behavior patterns that are hindering their success at home, school, and among friends and peers. Behavioral therapists aim to teach children with ADHD how to focus on their own actions and behavior, and how to praise themselves when they’ve acted appropriately in situations where they would usually be disruptive or inattentive.
Another form of behavioral therapy, known as cognitive behavioral therapy, incorporates meditation techniques with the goal of teaching patients how to be aware of their actions while accepting their thoughts and feelings.
Other forms of therapy and counseling options include family therapy, support groups, and mental health classes specializing in stress management techniques.
Select medications can be useful to some children by helping them control impulsiveness and inattentiveness, reduce outbursts, and assist them with staying on task. As with most prescription medications, however, there are side effects. Make sure to discuss this issue with your child’s pediatrician before starting any medications.
Stimulant medications are often prescribed to children with ADHD because it increases the brain’s dopamine, and therefore, helps with attention span and thinking issues. It’s the most commonly prescribed medicine for children with ADHD.
Non-stimulant medications are also prescribed, but usually when stimulants fail to work. A non-stimulant medication generally takes longer to take effect when compared to stimulants, but once it starts working, it can help improve attention, impulsiveness, focus, while helping decrease hyperactivity.
In some instances, physicians may prescribe anti-depressant medications to children with ADHD as anxiety and depression are common comorbidities of ADHD and treating those symptoms can improve overall functioning.
Cerebral Palsy and ADHD Link
A few studies have found a link between ADHD, cerebral palsy, and autism. One study, which researched 700 children in Norway, indicated that close to 13% of the children in the study who have cerebral palsy also had ADHD. Around 17% had both autism and ADHD. Pål Surén, MD, MPH, of the Center for Pediatric Epidemiology (one of the researchers in the study), said the findings showed the boys were at a higher risk of developing CP and ADHD or autism, when compared to girls.
“The findings demonstrate the significant burden of disease associated with neurologic and neurodevelopmental disorders in children, and that this burden is disproportionately skewed towards boys.”
More studies need to be done to figure out exactly why and how children with CP are more prone to develop ADHD and/or autism. Additional studies are currently underway.
As mentioned earlier, there is no cure for ADHD, nor is there a cure for cerebral palsy. Yet, finding the right treatment, which may take a bit of trial and error, has been shown to significantly increase the quality of many children’s lives.