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Managing Cerebral Palsy Sensory Problems

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What is Cerebral Palsy?

The term Cerebral Palsy (CP) is a term used to describe a range of neurological conditions that affect muscle control and movement, and often include cognitive and sensory impairments too. This condition surfaces following damage to the brain either before or after birth. This damage can be due to an infection caught by the mother during pregnancy, a premature or complicated birth, a bleed in the baby’s brain, or mutations in the genes that effect the brain’s development.

There are a range of symptoms of CP, with the main symptoms including stiffness or floppiness of the muscles, weakness of the muscles, uncontrolled body movements, and problems with balance and coordination. These symptoms vary in terms of severity. Additionally, some sufferers can sometimes experience fits, seizures, and learning difficulties.

Many sufferers of CP display symptoms of Sensory Processing Disorder, with either an increased or decreased degree of sensory processing. For those with an increased degree of sensory processing, individuals experience an over-sensitivity to their environment, with small sounds becoming overwhelming, and delicate materials irritating the skin. Those with an under-sensitivity may lack interaction and experience mental and physical fatigue. This disorder can cause sufferers to appear clumsy, struggle with fine motor skills, and be hard to engage in conversations and play.

Sensory Integration Therapy

There is no cure for Cerebral Palsy, but problems with sight, hearing, and balance, can be treated with sensory integration therapy. This helps children with CP to build and strengthen connections in the brain, which non-sufferers naturally do during childhood experiences. This therapy involves exposing children to sensory stimulation in a controlled and repetitive way.

For those with CP, sensory integration therapy helps individuals to process sensory information more efficiently. The therapist gradually increases the complexity of activities, with the aim being that the nervous system will respond to sensory input in a more organized way. Therapy helps children with CP to understand the relevance of sensory input and respond in the right way, particularly to external stimuli that is outside of their control. The ultimate goal of sensory integration therapy is to maximize the quality of life of CP sufferers; if they can respond well to sensory stimuli, then it allows them to live an improved and less disruptive life.

The activities during therapy involve the CP sufferer interacting one-on-one with the Occupational Therapist, and the challenges combine sensory input and motion. This helps to form lasting behavioral patterns that a child can carry through their development and into adulthood. Sensory Integration Therapy works with all of the senses, and the frequency of therapy sessions depends on the individual and their circumstances. The more sessions that the child is able to do, the better, However, if the sufferer is school-age, then it is harder to make time for therapy sessions. Therapy is not a permanent treatment; the objective is to facilitate normal development and improve abilities to process and integrate sensory information, so that these children can return to a normal community or classroom as soon as possible. If below school age, it can be a good idea to participate in a more intensive therapy treatment plan for a year or two, before reducing the plan.

Multi Sensory Rooms

Multi Sensory Rooms are designed to allow individuals with sensory problems to want to explore, run around, and play. These rooms can be adapted to the needs of your child; if the CP sufferer under-reacts to stimuli, then objects and therapy may involve more energetic activities and objects. For those that are over-sensitive, parents and therapists can choose equipment that is more calming and less interactive.

Objects such as balls, swings, and brushes are used to provide sensory inputs. By using the right frequencies and visual stimulation, sufferers of CP can move through a carefully designed environment that is based on their particular needs. There are lots of ideas for a multi sensory room. For example, an Iris balance beam is fun but also extremely beneficial in developing gross motor skills and balance. Or bubble tubes, which encourage interaction.

Sensory rooms are often used in medical settings for sensory therapies, but parents of a CP sufferer can also have some multi sensory equipment at home. There are many benefits of a multi sensory room, and these spaces offer a place that feels safe and calming, and that is fun for both adults and children who suffer from CP.

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