Some children, although not all, will experience cognitive dysfunction as an associated effect of cerebral palsy. Cognitive issues can range from mild to severe, but regardless of what level of function the child has, medical professionals will recommend treatment options that can help the child lead a more productive life.
Cognitive Function and Cognitive Impairment
Cognition is defined as the ability to learn, reason, and acquire knowledge through experiences, thoughts, and senses. Children with cerebral palsy who have cognitive impairment should be recognized early, so that appropriate interventions can be implemented as early in development as possible.
If you’ve learned that your child has cognitive issues, it’s understandable to be worried, but there are a number of treatment and therapy options that can help children with cognitive impairment lead quality lives.
If you’re unsure if your child has cognitive dysfunction, it’s important to have a professional evaluation as soon as possible. There are some signs to look out for, but keep in mind that only a medical professional can definitively diagnose cognitive impairment.
Signs of Cognitive Impairment
Some of the most common signs of cognitive dysfunction in children include:
- Delayed language development
- Difficulty speaking and responding to others
- Difficulty focusing on tasks; short attention span
- Difficulty learning to read and count
- Issues with sensory stimulation
- Emotional imbalances, including abnormal anger, anxiety, and depression
Cognitive Impairment Issues Explained
Anxiety, anger, emotional outbursts, and other behavioral issues may arise due to cognitive impairment. One of the most common reasons this occurs is because children with cognitive problems have difficulties with learning and aren’t catching on the way their peers are. They may feel uncomfortable and misunderstood, which can lead to bouts of anger, acting out in class and at home, and becoming anxious and depressed.
Children with cognitive issues may have trouble talking and expressing how they feel. In the classroom, a child may understand the lessons, but not be able to communicate the answers correctly. At home, the child may not be able to say what’s bothering them, when they are hungry or thirsty, or express how they feel. Cognitive impairment can lead to delayed language development and delayed emotional development.
Short Attention Span
Attention deficit disorder (ADD), autism, and other disorders may arise due to cognitive dysfunction, which results in a short attention span and difficulty staying on task. Some children will focus only on things that interest them, while others may only be able to concentrate for a few minutes before becoming bored and zoning out.
Cognitive impairment may also lead to sensory challenges, consisting of the inability to understand signals from the physical environment. This, of course, can make it difficult for the child to adjust to and feel comfortable in different surroundings.
Cognitive Disability Treatment Options
Although there is no cure for cognitive impairment, there are a number of treatment options proven beneficial to children with cerebral palsy, and any child who experiences cognitive delays.
In general, and depending on how severe the cognitive issues are, the child will typically have a team of medical professionals from different specialties to optimize their abilities. This can include:
- A primary physician
- A behavioral therapist
- Special education teachers
- A physical therapist
- A psychiatrist or psychologist
- A speech therapist
- An occupational therapist
- A neurologist
Each professional devises an individualized plan for the child based on cognitive test results and evaluations. For instance, a behavior therapist works with a child whose cognitive issues are causing behavioral problems, such as angry outbursts. The therapist will guide the child into responding with more appropriate reactions and emotions. An occupational therapist can assist children in learning the most efficient way to carry out daily tasks, such as using pencils and crayons, tying shoes, brushing teeth, and more. The speech therapist can help children with verbal or non-verbal communication, which makes it easier to express themselves when they need assistance with tasks or learning.
Ways Parents Can Help Their Children
Keep in mind that children with cerebral palsy, as mentioned earlier, often experience frustration and anger when they are trying to express themselves or are experiencing learning difficulties. This also applies when they are trying to figure out what people are asking of them.
It’s important to work closely with your child’s team of professionals, but here are some tips you can follow at home, which can greatly assist both you and your child:
- Always use positive reinforcement when your child learns something new or achieves something.
- Never isolate your child or scold for not learning quickly enough, and don’t accuse him or her of “not trying.”
- Get to know your child’s body language and cues so that you’ll be prepared when a meltdown is oncoming.
- Seek out opportunities for socialization for your child, but make sure it’s in a supportive environment.
- Be open to allowing your child to vent frustrations and anger.
Lifespan and Prognosis
Although there is a connection between lifespan and cognitive impairment, the reason for this is still unclear. Some scientists speculate that stress may play a role.
This is not to say that your child will have a shortened lifespan. There are numerous people with cerebral palsy and cognitive impairment that live fulfilling long lives. However, since cognitive dysfunction is a risk factor for a shortened lifespan, you’ll want to keep your child’s health appointments and make sure he/she is getting the best medical treatment possible.