Article published 11th June 2008
As a result of muscle weakness and spasticity, a child with cerebral palsy will often appear clumsy when walking, talking, using their hands or carrying out everyday tasks and activities such as using scissors, jumping, painting, with resultant health and safety implications.
Pupils with cerebral palsy may tire faster than their peers as motor impairment means they may have to try much harder and use more energy performing tasks.
Cerebral palsy at school
Children with Cerebral Palsy may have any or all of:
- learning difficulties
- behavioural problems
- sensory impairment (especially communication).
- difficulty with fine or gross motor skills and visual perception
- significant dietary requirements.
Early support and therapeutic intervention can undoubtedly help. The severity of cerebral palsy together with any additional learning needs will determine the help and support an individual child requires. Many can follow the full mainstream curriculum with some sufferers requiring only the minimum of intervention or consideration.
Sufferers with mild symptoms may not receive help from specialists, but teachers should be made aware of the difficulties they may encounter, especially in PE, practical subjects and with writing.
Cerebral Palsy sufferers with severe and complex needs may find a special school with specialist equipment and resources beneficial. Time spent on therapy will vary according to the needs of the individual.
Additional help and intervention may include some or all of:
- educational psychology
- occupational therapy
- assistance with speech and language including augmentative and alternative communication (AAC)
- conductive education for varying amounts of time and in differing degrees.
One adult with cerebral palsy told how clinicians said he would never walk, yet, following conductive education he and others in his class achieved this milestone by their sixth birthdays.
Conductive education, based on the work of the Peto Institute in Hungary, is a holistic system that incorporates therapies, learning and exercise; it is an intensive regime and requires a massive commitment from all those involved with the child, especially parents, but those who follow the programmes do acclaim the benefits.
One of the first programmes in the UK was developed at Ingfield Manor School in West Sussex. Now operating within the school as The Dame Vera Lynn School for Parents, the centre can be used by anyone with SEN arising from cerebral palsy and physical and associated difficulties. Officially it’s for children from 1 to 5 years, though some as young as 9 months attend. Families used to come from far afield, but the opening of additional centres throughout the UK has reduced the catchment area.
The Conductive Education programmes cover many aspects, including the basics, such as falling, head control, sitting and standing. (Babies are born with reflex responses to stimuli, prior to the brain developing vital neural pathways. Children with cerebral palsy who retain these reflexes beyond infancy need to be taught to override them.)
About Cerebral Palsy
Cerebral palsy, a non-progressive disorder, describes a group of chronic conditions characterised by an inability to fully control motor function, particularly muscle control and co-ordination. Causes can be multiple and complex. Recent studies suggest that cerebral palsy is mostly due to factors affecting the brain before birth.
Cerebral palsy is frequently categorised into three main types although many people will have a combination of these types:
- spasticity (stiff and tight muscles)
- athetoid or dyskinetic (involuntary movements, change of tone in muscles from floppy to tense)
- ataxic (unsteady, uncoordinated shaky movements and irregular speech).
How does cerebral palsy affect the individual child?
As cerebral palsy is such a wide-ranging condition, its effects vary with each individual. In some people, cerebral palsy is barely noticeable; others will be more severely affected. Symptoms depend on the parts of the brain affected, but can include:
- involuntary movement
- difficulties with mobility
- abnormal sensation and perception
- sensory impairment of any or all of sight, hearing or speech
- poor listening skills
- problems with attention and memory.
The root of the problem is in the brain rather than the affected limbs, and as yet no cure exists to repair the damaged brain cells. Physiotherapy and speech therapy can be used to help with difficulties and prevent deformities developing or the condition worsening. Implications for learning depend on the area of the brain affected and severity of the condition.