Cerebral palsy communication difficulties can be frustrating for both the parent and child.
Children with communication problems due to cerebral palsy are prone to emotional outbursts and other behavioral problems due to feeling misunderstood.
This article will cover some of the leading causes of CP-related communication difficulties and the most effective ways to manage them.
Top Causes of Cerebral Palsy Communication Difficulties
The best way to manage communication difficulties is to identify and solve the root of the problem.
1. Oral Motor Impairment
Cerebral palsy can affect motor functions in many parts of the body, including the facial muscles.
When the muscles of the mouth have motor impairments, it negatively impacts essential functions like chewing, swallowing, and speaking.
Dysarthria is a condition characterized by difficulties controlling the oral muscles and inhaling enough oxygen.
It’s the most common speech disorder in people in cerebral palsy, but it certainly isn’t the only.
Other forms of communication difficulties caused by oral motor impairment include stuttering, slurring, a nasally voice, and poor pronunciation.
In very severe cases of cerebral palsy, patients may be unable to speak at all.
It’s important to understand that just because someone with cerebral palsy doesn’t speak, doesn’t mean that they can’t understand what you’re saying.
Many people with cerebral palsy-related oral motor impairments have average or even above-normal intelligence and can perfectly understand what you’re saying. They know what they want to tell you, they just aren’t physically able to.
How to Manage:
Depending on the localization of cerebral palsy, patients with oral motor impairments will learn to rely more on body language to communicate.
Learning sign language or just a few universal gestures can be extremely effective. However, those who have motor impairments in their upper extremities may not be able to perform the hand motions.
One of the best ways to manage oral motor impairments is to go to speech therapy.
At speech therapy, your child will learn various ways to communicate by working on strengthening the oral muscles, using a communication board, and through augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) technologies.
With the help of technology, many people with severe oral motor impairments can express their thoughts and participate in conversations.
2. Upper Extremity Impairment
If cerebral palsy affects the muscles in your arms and hands, communication difficulties can arise from being unable to point or use gestures.
This is usually not too problematic for communication unless the patient also has oral motor impairments.
Depending on the severity of the upper extremity impairments, some people with nonverbal cerebral palsy may be able to learn sign language.
How to Manage:
Upper extremity motor impairments are primarily managed through physical and occupational therapy.
Fine motor skills are the smaller movements required to perform actions that require more precision, like writing or eating.
Gross motor skills are necessary to make larger movements such as walking of moving your arm.
Physical therapy will help develop gross motor functions and overall mobility by focusing on exercises that strengthen weak muscles and lengthen spastic muscles.
Occupational therapy will help develop fine motor skills by focusing on everyday tasks and teaching you how to use adaptive equipment if necessary.
3. Hearing Impairment
Associative conditions are conditions that frequently co-occur but are not directly related to cerebral palsy.
Hearing impairments are a common associative condition in individuals with cerebral palsy that can cause communication difficulties.
When you can’t hear clearly, you can’t learn or respond to others appropriately.
How to Manage:
To assess how severe the hearing impairment is, take your child to an audiologist.
From there, the doctor will recommend interventions like medications, hearing aids, surgery, or cochlear implants to improve hearing.
Hearing aids won’t heal hearing problems, but they will amplify sound.
More severe hearing impairments will require surgery to remove deformities or buildup that block sound from reaching the inner ear.
Another intervention that requires surgery is getting a cochlear implant. It works around the damaged areas of the ear and creates artificial sound by processing sound into electric impulses that directly stimulate the auditory nerve.
4. Visual Impairment
Some people with cerebral palsy may experience cortical visual impairments (CVI), which generally doesn’t involve a problem with the eyes, but rather the way the brain processes what the eyes see.
Signs of a CVI that can negatively affect communication include:
- delayed reactions
- blank stares
- selective attention
- misaligned pupils
- difficulty recognizing familiar faces.
How to Manage:
Just like cerebral palsy, cortical vision impairment is a spectrum condition, and management techniques can vary quite a bit.
Luckily, cortical visual impairments won’t get worse over time, but the brain damage cannot be reversed.
If you suspect that your child has a visual impairment, take them to see a pediatric ophthalmologist for an official diagnosis.
Practicing activities that promote visual processing may help train your child’s brain to develop better spatial awareness, sensory coordination, and focus.
5. Intellectual Disability
Intellectual disabilities are one of the most prevalent associative conditions of cerebral palsy.
They occur in up to 50% of all CP cases and can drastically affect your child’s ability to communicate effectively.
Inability to focus, retain information, and understand social cues can make it difficult to interact and contribute to a conversation with others.
Similarly, just because a child can’t speak, does not mean that they have an intellectual disability.
An intellectual disability can affect a child’s ability not only to learn but also to interact with others.
How to Manage:
Behavior therapy will help improve socialization skills in children with CP.
It will help teach your child better ways to interact with people and skills such as sharing, taking turns, and more effective ways to express frustration than throwing a tantrum.
Encouraging your child to participate in group activities with other children will help them practice these communication skills.
Making sure your child has adequate educational assistance at school will help provide them with the individualized support, accommodations, and attention they need to succeed academically.
Cerebral Palsy Communication Difficulties: Key Points
Although cerebral palsy is a motor disorder, it can cause communication difficulties.
We communicate through words, body language, tone, and facial expressions. Inability to control the movements in your face and body can make it difficult to express what you want to say.
Associative conditions of cerebral palsy like hearing, visual, and cognitive impairments can also affect social interactions.
Identifying the underlying causes of communication difficulties is crucial because each cause needs to be dealt with differently.
Some will require physical training, while others will require cognitive training or surgical intervention.
Hopefully, this article helped you better understand what can cause cerebral palsy communication difficulties and how to manage them. Good luck!