Cerebral Palsy and Occupational Therapy
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Occupational therapy provides a variety of benefits to children with cerebral palsy. Health care providers often encourage this form of therapy along with physical therapy in order for children to lead easier, more independent lives. Yet, while physical therapy concentrates on improving the child’s muscle tone and balance, occupational therapy assists in helping children accomplish daily life activities.
Occupational Therapy Defined
According to the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA), occupational therapy is a form of therapy that helps people of all ages to learn how to improve their abilities to do the everyday activities they want to or have to do.
For children with cerebral palsy, occupational therapy can help them with everyday school tasks, eating and drinking, dressing, hygiene, and other tasks they need to learn for daily use.
Many children with cerebral palsy experience visual impairment. Some children may have severe impairment whereas others may have a mild impairment, but regardless of severity, therapy can assist in helping them with their daily tasks. Occupational therapy, in particular, helps by carrying out sensory-perceptual-motor (SPM) training which helps stimulate the senses in order to perform daily tasks more easily.
In addition, an occupational therapist may use visual input tools and cues, as well as verbal directions to assist children in carrying out necessary daily activities.
Occupational therapy is also beneficial to children with cerebral palsy who have cognitive impairment. Daily routines that are set up with reminders help cognitively impaired children with daily chores such as remembering to dress, brush their teeth, and other tasks needed to get ready for the day.
Motor impairment affects children with cerebral palsy in numerous ways, which can make daily tasks difficult. For example, many children will have difficulties with daily hygiene, moving around, posture, and completing school tasks due to limitations in movement.
An occupational therapist assesses each child’s needs and tailors their therapy to meet personal goals. Activities and services may differ accordingly, but can consist of stretching and guide motor output techniques, constraint-induced movement therapy (CIMT), and neuromuscular facilitation techniques.
Types of Everyday Tasks Occupational Therapy Helps With
As mentioned earlier, occupational therapy assists with daily tasks such as eating, dressing, hygiene, and helping with motor movement skills. Other tasks occupational therapy can assist with include:
- Grasping objects
- Using a computer and other electronics
- Opening doors
- Holding and reading books
- Interacting with peers, caregivers, and parents
- School and/or daycare activities
- Sitting and standing up from tables and school desks
Benefits of Occupational Therapy for Parents and Caregivers
Children with cerebral palsy aren’t the only ones that can benefit from occupational therapy. With successful treatment, parents and caregivers also benefit by watching their children thrive both physically and emotionally. This process helps to reduce stress and provides a sense of peace as the child becomes more independent and productive.
Occupational Therapy Settings
Occupational therapy can take place in a variety of settings. While there is a large database of occupational therapists available across the nation, some may be more specialized than others in your child’s specific needs. Common settings for occupational therapy include:
- Outpatient offices
- Inpatient medical centers
- In the home with a qualified occupational therapist
- Nursing centers
- Occupational Therapy Providers
Finding and working with a trained, licensed occupational therapist is crucial to quality occupational therapy. These therapists have expertise on assessing the child and acknowledging the child’s strengths and weaknesses. They can then create an individualized plan to help achieve the child best achieve his or her goals.
Per AOTA, licensed occupational therapists are not only licensed in their state to practice occupational therapy but generally, have a degree in one of the following:
- Social Services
- Human Development
- Anatomy & Physiology
Prior to anyone becoming an occupational therapist, each state in the nation requires that they first be licensed. Licensing generally requires graduation from an accredited school, fieldwork hours, and passing the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy examination.
In addition to a licensed occupational therapist, many children will have the benefit of having additional assistants help them succeed. Occupational therapist assistants may also need to become licensed (according to each state), and must complete related school and field work.
Occupational Therapy Assessments
Prior to starting occupational therapy, children with cerebral palsy undergo a complete, comprehensive assessment to ensure they get individualized treatment. Assessments usually include an occupational therapist testing the child’s:
- Motor skills
- Developmental condition
- Cognitive development and functioning
- Psychological needs
- Emotional needs
- Home and school environment
How to Find a Qualified Occupational Therapist
If you need assistance in finding a licensed occupational therapist who works with children with cerebral palsy, health care providers are typically able to give you a referral. Other options include contacting your city’s Health and Human Services department or browsing your local phone listings. Keep in mind, however, that you may need a referral from your child’s health care provider(s).