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Fostering or adopting any child is a selfless and loving thing to do. 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 loving and raising a child with this condition is wonderful for many adoptive parents.
What Is Cerebral Palsy?
Cerebral palsy is a classification of disorders that affects body movements, muscle tone, muscle control, coordination, and posture. It is caused by brain damage that occurs while a child is in the womb, during labor and delivery, or soon after birth.
The most common cause of brain damage that leads to cerebral palsy is asphyxiation or lack of oxygen to the fetus or baby’s brain. Many things can cause asphyxia, such as complications with the umbilical cord or low blood pressure in the mother. Many other factors cause brain damage or 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, making moving difficult. In other forms, the condition may cause writing and slow movements, or it may cause poor coordination and balance.
There are also many possible potential complications and associated conditions, including hearing loss, developmental delay, orthopedic problems, gastrointestinal disorders, and mental and behavioral challenges.
How Children Are Affected by Cerebral Palsy
How cerebral palsy affects a child depends highly on the individual. This condition has a great variety of symptoms, complications, and severities. The condition may be almost undetectable for one child with cerebral palsy to someone who does not know the child. For another, the condition may be so severe that the child cannot function or complete daily tasks without assistance.
Most children will experience some degree of physical disability. In most cases, there is no intellectual disability, but some children may have lower IQs as a result of brain damage. Some children may need some degree of lifelong assistance, while others can 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 their 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 develop a treatment plan for your child’s particular needs.
A treatment plan may include medical interventions, such as medications to treat complications and symptoms and surgeries to correct deformities or release 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 independent daily activities and tasks, like getting dressed or brushing teeth. A child may also benefit from using aids for improving mobility, managing behaviors, and encouraging educational success.
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 must be adapted and modified periodically as they grow and develop. Going through certain life milestones will be different for a child with cerebral palsy.
Going to school for the first time, a first sleepover, becoming a teenager, getting a job, and learning to live as an independent adult are all milestones that may require additional support from loving parents and guardians.
Throughout everyday life and while going through these transitions, parents and other family members need to support a child with cerebral palsy by teaching and encouraging the child to be more independent.
Doing everything for this child will not help the child and will only make significant transitions more difficult. When parents encourage their children 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
Numerous agencies and groups can help you become a foster or adoptive parent. Some even focus on helping children with disabilities like cerebral palsy find loving homes.
These agencies often assist you throughout the entire fostering or adoption process. Some may even be connected to a medical facility specializing in treating 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. By choosing to love and support a child with cerebral palsy, you are adding more to the challenge of parenting. Connecting with other parents going through similar experiences can help provide support as you navigate these challenges.
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 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 varying levels of assistance, but they can still enjoy their lives. These children need loving parents who are willing to give them the time, love, support, and treatment they need to grow into happy and productive adults.
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- Children with special needs. (n.d.). Home - Child Welfare Information Gateway.
Retrieved from: https://www.childwelfare.gov/topics/adoption/adoptive/who-are-the-children-waiting-for-families/child-disabilities/