School-Based Occupational Therapy Spotlight: Treating Children with Cerebral Palsy

by Howard Gerber on December 14, 2017

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OT for cerebral palseyAs an occupational therapist in a school setting, you probably work with children with all types of challenges, such as autism, learning disabilities, and muscular dystrophy. It’s also common for school-based OTs to treat students with cerebral palsy. When working with children with CP, it’s important to keep several things in mind.

Challenges Vary

Similar to all students, children with cerebral palsy have varied challenges. Some students may have communications issues and salvia control problems, which also require speech therapy. In other cases, students may primarily have mobility problems or intellectual difficulties.

Because of the vast communication, mobility, and intellectual challenges students may face, treatment plans often incorporate varied approaches. You are also likely to work together with other therapists, such as speech and physical therapy to help meet your student’s needs.

Common Therapy Goals

Although all children are unique and individual treatment plans vary, common goals when working with students with cerebral palsy include the following:

Improving muscle tone: Physical therapists and occupational therapists work together to help children with CP normalize muscle tone. OTs teach children stabilization and weight-bearing exercises to improve muscle tone, which can improve participation in activities of daily living and school activities.

Navigation with assisted technology: An important part of a treatment plan may include helping children learn to use assisted technology devices, such as adapted keyboards, voice command devices, and adapted writing utensils. OTs also may work alongside physical therapy to teach students how to use power mobility devices, such as walkers and wheelchairs to navigate their classroom.

Parent training on positioning: Parent training is often part of a treatment plan for children with cerebral palsy. When working with students with mobility issues, consider training parents on positioning exercises and strategies to help improve trunk stability. It may also be useful to teach parents how to perform massage to decrease muscle rigidity.

Teacher education: Working together with teachers is vital to help your students achieve their goals. Therapists can help teachers make their classroom more accessible to develop an inclusive environment.

Factors to Consider

Children with cerebral palsy may have certain challenges that affect socialization with other students. It’s often difficult for children with cerebral palsy to participate in school activities due to problems with trunk instability. Feeding and swallowing issues may also affect a child’s ability to have lunch with other students.

Some children with CP also have bladder and bowel control problems, which can lead to decreased self-esteem. As a school-based OT, it may be helpful to provide students opportunities to socialize with other children. When possible, consider activities, such as a lunch group.

Don’t overlook the emotional well-being of your students. According to the Cereal Palsy Alliance, about one in four children with CP have behavior issues. Some students may have strong reactions to new situations and challenges. Teens with CP may be prone to anxiety or depression. It can be helpful to work together with school counselors to address emotional concerns.

What helpful strategies have you used when working with students with cerebral palsy?

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