13 November 2010

As we’ve already discussed, cerebral palsy is a designation which covers many symptoms. In medical terms, it is not attributed as a disease or genetic disorder, but characterized as a condition with several possible causes. Whether congenital or acquired, cerebral palsy occurs when certain parts of a child’s brain has been damaged, affecting his ability to function, communicate and control his movements. Since the brain acts as the control centre for the nervous system, this will also lead to changes in his cognitive and sensory development. For a child, this many first become evident from his clenched fists and hypertonic muscles affecting either the limbs, trunk, or one side of the body. He will throw himself backwards when touched on his back, instead of putting his head forward when raised up from his hands. Also, the child may not trace objects, roll to both sides, or he might use one side more than the other. Parents are often the ones who watch their child the most, and notice when something is wrong.

As parents continue learning about their child’s condition there are several things that they need answers to, and the prospects for their child’s development is one of the main issues that may arise. Having worked in rehabilitation for over 20 years, I’ve had many parents asking us: Is cerebral palsy curable? My answer to that question is that it really depends on each child’s specific development, stage of condition.

Now, I know that I am going to cause a lot of debate here, but it is not my goal to argue about this issue. Instead, I would just like to show everyone my standpoint on this issue based on my years of experience and practice in the field. First, to tackle this issue we need to determine that every case of CP is different and can vary from being really mild to severe. When dealing with extremely severe cases, then I agree: there is no cure. Can we improve their ability to function, and bring them as close to independence as possible? Yes we can, when we give them the right approach and treatment. However when we’re dealing with certain mild cases, then there is the possibility for the condition to be cured—if caught on time and dealt with in the right circumstances.

How is this possible? Well, until a child turns one year old his development is still in its early stages. He starts to learn how to roll, crawl and stand, which are huge first milestones in his progress. By doing this, the child is starting to discover the world and open himself to new experiences. When a child is diagnosed with CP during this time period, he will not have had time to form improper functions (movements, communication) to compensate for his condition. Since he has not begun the subsequent cycle of disability and loss of independence which often occur in children with neurological disorders, you have the opportunity to take the child and guide his learning. When given the appropriate methods and appropriate stimulation, his brain will form new functional pathways. This is something called: brain neuroplasticity, and since the pathways are in their developmental stages, it is very possible to develop your child and help him accomplish independence.

So how can we do this? If we get into the specifics and talk about spastic cerebral palsy, we need to consider how hyper tone develops in a child’s body. When a child’s muscle tone is increasing, this does not allow proper function to take place. Consequently, this leads to compensation in his movements and begins a vicious circle affecting his mobility. Once a child learns to move in the appropriate way, he can then progress on to the normalization of function. In my opinion, if a child can move, then he can learn. As a physiotherapist, I have seen many cases progress to a point where a child doesn’t even appear to have a condition after treatment has finished (watch Sean or Katerina’s treatment). So, if a child has achieved normal tone and normal function, why should he be aware of a condition that is no longer affecting his life? Again, I am highlighting that each child has to be seen as an individual with his own condition, and that not everyone can work out of it to such a degree. But for years, we have seen children brought out of their disorders, and today these certain individuals can run, interact and play without any signs of cerebral palsy.

We need to remember that, first and foremost, therapy is something that happens all the time. A child’s learning doesn’t just occur in the treatment room; parents play a key role in their his improvement. If there is a possibility for your child to become independent, what he can achieve will depend greatly on how you guide his development. Keep this in mind, stay optimistic, and believe in what your child can accomplish.

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