Cerebral palsy

Cerebral palsy affects each child differently. Children with cerebral palsy experience disorders of movement, but may also have difficulties which can influence:

  • Learning
  • Behaviour
  • Vision/hearing
  • Perception
  • Communication
  • Eating and swallowing
  • Epilepsy

Such difficulties can range from mild to severe and may affect their ability to function at home and at school.

Different types of cerebral palsy

The child's ability to control movement and posture may be affected by:

  • Spasticity - tightness of muscles restricting movement
  • Hypotonia - floppiness of muscles which cause difficulties moving
  • Athetosis - almost constant involuntary movements which the child finds difficult to control
  • Ataxia - jerky movements making co-ordinated movement difficult

These affect the distribution throughout the child’s body:

  • Hemiplegia - primarily affects one side of the body
  • Diplegia - mainly affects legs with some involvement of the arms
  • Quadriplegia - affects the whole body

Occupational therapists can help with functionally related issues

Occupational therapy is aimed at helping the child to achieve or maintain their maximum level of independence and to develop practical life skills so that the child can participate to his/her full potential in the home and classroom environment. Ways we can help include:

  • Moving safely
  • Sustaining posture eg sitting for table top activities
  • Fine motor skills eg handwriting
  • Gross motor skills eg moving from one position to another or balance skills
  • Concentration/attention
  • Organisation, planning and sequencing
  • Confidence, self esteem and social skills
  • Use of technology
  • Self-care skills such as feeding self or getting dressed

Assessment and treatment

Following referral and discussion with the child, parents/carers and teachers, the following specialist assessments and treatments may be offered:

  • Developmental skills
  • Self-care skills
  • Independent living skills (young adults)
  • Fine and gross motor skills
  • Visual perception
  • Sensory processing
  • The need for specialist equipment and adaptations

Occupational therapists use standardised assessments, observation and analysis of the child’s everyday activities in his/her environment. Occupational therapists identify how the child’s strengths and difficulties affect performance at home and school and decide whether intervention is required.

Our occupational therapy department at the Royal Free Hospital is open 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.