What to Expect When Raising a Child with CP
If your child has been diagnosed with cerebral palsy, there are some things that you should expect. Some of the hardships that your family will face will be financial. Others will be personal and emotional.
Cerebral palsy always entails quite a few challenges, but with good information and good resources, the majority of people with cerebral palsy go on to live very rich and fulfilling lives.
Because cerebral palsy is the result of a brain injury, there is no “cure.” The good news is that cerebral palsy is not degenerative. The symptoms may worsen, however, and the child may require more-intensive forms of assistance and medical care as they get older. In most cases, children who are afflicted with this type of birth injury do require some degree of medical assistance (especially in their early years).
Some children with severe forms of cerebral palsy will be dependent upon other people to provide them care for their entire lives. At some point much further down the line, your child may need to find (or have provided to them) a professional caregiver who can take over when you can no longer deliver the level of care that your child needs.
The disorder may also have different manifestations and characteristics, depending on the part of the brain affected. For example, some kids may have problems with gripping and manipulating things with their hands, while others may exhibit balance issues or uncontrolled movements.
As many as half of all children with cerebral palsy suffer from seizures, often caused by epilepsy. Other common complications that individuals with cerebral palsy might experience as they grow up include hip dislocation, curvature of the spine, incontinence, tooth decay, skin sores, and asthma.
For more-specific information based on the child’s age, see the following pages:
Children with cerebral palsy will often be delayed in terms of developmental milestones. This will be most pronounced in areas such as motor skills. If your child has cerebral palsy, expect them to have a different developmental cycle than most children. Speak with the pediatrician to learn more about this, and keep close contact with your child’s doctor to discuss milestones and expectations.
Mobility & Accessibility Issues
There are several different types of cerebral palsy, and they do tend to have different effects on mobility. When it come to cerebral palsy and walking, some individuals are able to walk unassisted, but with a very shaky, unsteady gait. In other cases, a child may be completely unable to walk at all.
In most cases, children who suffer from CP need some sort of assistive device for getting around. This might be something as simple as a walker or crutches or it might require an electric wheelchair.
Cerebral palsy is primarily known for the effects it has on the muscles. People with CP sometimes have involuntary movements that prevent them from performing tasks such as gripping, lifting, or even walking. Those with cerebral palsy also sometimes have tremors, spasms, and uneven muscle tone that makes certain tasks much more-difficult. Coordination is oftentimes severely impaired.
For some children with CP, muscle control issues can also cause problems such as urinary incontinence, drooling, and difficulty eating or swallowing.
Seizures & Co-Occurring Epilepsy
While not all children with cerebral palsy experience associated seizure disorders, about 20-40 percent are later diagnosed with co-occurring epilepsy. There are treatment options available to reduce the frequency and severity of such seizures, but it’s important to know what to do to protect your child during an episode.
Hearing, Speech & Vision Problems
Children who suffer from CP oftentimes need assistive tools to help them with problems involving hearing and speech. Cerebral palsy is caused by damage to the parts of the brain that control these faculties, and in many cases, these difficulties lead to problems learning and keeping up in school.
Children who are affected by this brain injury often have problems with their vision. This can usually be corrected with glasses, though some cases can be severe. Left and right eye muscle differences can cause strabismus (crossed eyes). Children’s brains will often adapt to this condition by ignoring the signals of one eye, but corrective surgery may be necessary.
Mental Impairment and Learning Disabilities
Not everybody with cerebral palsy is what could be accurately termed intellectually disabled or mentally impaired. In fact, many people with cerebral palsy are quite a bit smarter than average. This is because the brain injury that causes cerebral palsy doesn’t affect everybody in the same way.
Some people’s cognitive centers may be spared, which means that they develop normally from an intellectual perspective. Some people with cerebral palsy do have difficulty in certain subjects because of their condition. Make sure that you let your child know that there’s nothing wrong with having difficulty in some subjects, and that they can get extra help when they need it.
Some schools have very good special education programs available. This isn’t always the case, however. Even if you do have good special education available in your school district, you may want to hire a tutor to help your child succeed in school.
In the vast majority of cases, those with cerebral palsy are fully-able to live long and quality lives. The severity of the child’s condition, as well as the management of his or her symptoms, may affect a person’s life expectancy, but speak to your child’s doctor. Cerebral palsy is not a progressive condition, but other conditions may change over time and have an effect on the overall health and life expectancy of the patient.
Costs & Expenses
For families of children who suffer this condition, one of the most significant consequences is the expense. Treatment (including medical treatments, assistive devices, tutors, etc.) is not inexpensive, and if medical malpractice was at issue, there’s no reason that parents should have to foot these bills on their own.
Talking to a CP attorney may be the first step in finding out whether or not you’re entitled to a jury award, or whether or not the doctor or hospital is likely to offer an out-of-court settlement.
Cerebral palsy is distressing, expensive to treat, and can be devastating when parents first find out about it. Be aware, however, that many people with cerebral palsy lead very interesting and fulfilling lives!