Fostering or adopting any child is a selfless and loving thing to do, but to take on a child with special needs, such as one with cerebral palsy, adds challenges to what is already a difficult task. The rewards can be great, though, and to love and raise a child with this condition is a wonderful thing to do for many adoptive parents.
What is Cerebral Palsy?
Cerebral palsy is a type of a group of disorders that affect how the body moves, muscle tone, muscle control, coordination, and posture. It is caused by brain damage that occurs while a baby is in the womb, during labor and delivery, or soon after a baby is born. The most common cause of brain damage that leads to cerebral palsy is asphyxiation, or lack of oxygen to the baby or fetus’s brain. There are many things that can cause asphyxia, such as complications with the umbilical cord or low blood pressure in the mother, but there are also many other factors that cause the brain damage or that are considered risk factors for it, such as maternal infections or prolonged labor.
Symptoms of cerebral palsy vary widely from mild to severe, and take different forms. For instance, a child with spastic cerebral palsy has stiff, over-toned muscles, which makes moving difficult. In other forms, the condition may cause writing, slow movements, or it may cause poor coordination and balance. There are also many potential complications and associated conditions that are possible, including hearing loss, developmental delays, orthopedic problems, gastrointestinal conditions, and mental and behavioral challenges.
How Children Are Affected by Cerebral Palsy
How cerebral palsy will affect a child depends highly on the individual. There is a lot of variety in symptoms, complications, and severity of this condition from one child to the next. For one child with cerebral palsy, the condition may be almost undetectable to someone who doesn’t know she lives with it. For another, the condition may be so severe that he cannot function or complete daily tasks without assistance.
Most children will experience some degree of physical disability, from spastic and uncontrollable movements to being unable to walk without an assistive device. In the majority of cases there is no intellectual disability, but some children may have lower IQs as a result of the brain damage. Some children may need some degree of lifelong assistance, while others are able to live independently.
Cerebral palsy is not curable, but it is also not progressive. It does not get worse with time, but it is a condition that a child will have to live with for the rest of his or her life. In addition to the physical challenges this causes, a child may also struggle with mental, behavioral, and social issues because of living with a permanent condition. For instance, a child with cerebral palsy may not always be included at school or among peers, which can lead to isolation and feelings of depression or anxiety.
Treatment Plans for a Foster or Adopted Child
Fostering or adopting a child with cerebral palsy means taking on these challenges and being prepared to provide the extra guidance, support, and treatments needed to give that child the best life possible. Treatment for cerebral palsy varies depending on an individual child’s needs and limitations, but it always begins with a plan. You will need to consult with a pediatrician, medical specialists, therapists, educational professionals, and others to come up with a treatment plan for your child’s particular needs.
A treatment plan may include medical interventions, such as medications to treat complications and symptoms, surgeries to correct deformities and stiff muscles to help your child move better and with less pain. Physical therapy is also typically an important part of treatment for cerebral palsy. A therapist can help a child train the muscles and exercise, which helps to improve balance, coordination, strength, posture, and flexibility. Your child may need other types of therapy, such as speech therapy or occupational therapy to help learn how to perform typical activities and tasks, like getting dressed or brushing teeth. A child may also benefit from using aids like walkers, from educational interventions, and behavioral therapy.
Facing Transitions and Milestones with a Child with Cerebral Palsy
Caring for a child with cerebral palsy goes beyond the initial treatment plan. A child’s care will need to be adapted and modified periodically as he grows and develops. Going through certain life milestones will be different with a child with cerebral palsy. Going to school for the first time, a first sleep over, becoming a teenager, getting a job, and learning to live as an independent adult: these and other milestones may require additional support from loving parents and guardians.
Throughout everyday life and while going through these transitions, it is important for parents and other family members to support a child with cerebral palsy by teaching her to be able to do things for herself. Doing everything for this child will not help her and will only make major transitions more difficult. When parents encourage their child to do more, they give that child the self-esteem and sense of purpose and accomplishment that is so important to someone with a lifelong disability.
Agencies for Fostering and Adopting a Child with Cerebral Palsy
There are numerous agencies and groups that can help you become a foster or adoptive parent. Some even focus on helping to find loving homes for children with disabilities like cerebral palsy. If you want to adopt a child with special needs, contact one of these groups to find out more. They can help you through the adoption process and connect you with children in need, but they may also provide ongoing support. Some may even be connected to a medical facility that specializing in treatment for children with special needs, including cerebral palsy.
Connecting with other Adoptive Parents
Adopting any child is never an easy transition. Being a parent, biological or adoptive is as difficult as it is rewarding, but by choosing to love and support a child with cerebral palsy, you are adding more to the challenge of parenting. A great way to support you as parents is to connect with others who are going through a similar situation. Your adoption agency may be able to help you find support groups and other types of groups for adoptive parents and their families or even for those families specifically with special needs children. Having support from other families is great for parents and children and makes the journey a little easier.
If you are thinking of fostering or adopting a child with cerebral palsy, the most important thing to know is that these children can live long, happy, and fulfilling lives, just like anybody else. They need more support and guidance along the way, but most children with cerebral palsy will grow up to be active, working, independent adults. Some may have varied levels of assistance, but they can still enjoy their lives. These children need loving parents, those willing to give them the time, love, support, and treatment that they need to grow into happy and productive adults.