Will early intervention for cerebral palsy make a difference in your child’s longterm mobility?
Cerebral palsy is a lifelong condition that affects your movements, posture, coordination, and balance.
While the brain damage that caused cerebral palsy will not progress over time, it also cannot reverse itself.
However, due to neuroplasticity, the brain can adapt and rewire itself so that functions affected by the brain damage may be rewired to healthy areas of the brain.
This article will explain how early intervention may boost motor function in individuals with cerebral palsy by preventing secondary complications and optimizing neuroplasticity.
Early Intervention for Cerebral Palsy Requires Early Diagnosis
Developmental delays are one of the first signs of cerebral palsy, but a developmental delay does not mean your child has CP.
Many children with mild cerebral palsy are not diagnosed until they’re 2-5 years old because symptoms may be unclear.
Many doctors hesitate to diagnose infants with mild symptoms because many times, they end up not having cerebral palsy at all.
However, waiting until symptoms escalate may also be problematic.
Although the brain damage that caused cerebral palsy will not worsen over time, primary and secondary conditions of CP like spasticity and pain can.
Goals of Early Intervention for Cerebral Palsy
The goal of early intervention for children with cerebral palsy is to:
- Optimize mobility and coordination through interventions that promote neuroplasticity
- Prevent or manage the primary and secondary complications of cerebral palsy (like pain, scoliosis, hip displacement, and speech impairments) so that motor impairments are minimized and don’t interfere with training
Training to promote neuroplasticity should be motivating, task-specific, and highly repetitive.
The more effective a task is at motivating your child, the easier it will be for them to perform the repetitions they need for neuroplasticity to occur.
Does Timing Matter?
An infant’s brain is undergoing a key period of development, so the more they interact with their environment, the more neural connections form in the brain.
The younger they are, the more plasticity the brain has, and the easier it is to learn new skills and replace bad habits.
It’s important to understand that the brain will always have neuroplasticity and that recovery is possible at any age.
As long as you’re practicing the movements and stimulating the brain, the brain will adjust and strengthen its neural pathways.
However, early intervention is ideal because it takes advantage of a young brain’s eagerness to learn and quick adaptability.
Methods of Early Intervention for Cerebral Palsy
So what does early intervention consist of?
Every case of cerebral palsy is unique, and management requires an individualized approach.
If your child has very minor muscle stiffness, early intervention may be as simple as daily stretching.
In contrast, children with more complicated symptoms may need to use a combination of multiple management interventions like:
- Physical therapy (to improve joint range of motion, strengthen underused muscles, and practice moving with correct form through functional exercise)
- Orthotics (to promote proper musculoskeletal alignment and gently stretch spastic muscles)
- Occupational therapy (to practice activities of daily living)
- Speech therapy (to strengthen muscles around the mouth necessary for communication and feeding)
Goals – Activity – Motor Enrichment (GAME)
GAME is a home-based therapy intervention that promotes neuroplasticity through intensive, task-specific training.
Therapists set realistic, achievable goals and develop training activities that are personalized to the infant’s abilities.
They then educate the parent how to guide their infant through the activities.
GAME involves creating an enriched play environment that encourages infants to interact with their surroundings and facilitate their own movements.
Because the training takes place at home, infants are more relaxed and comfortable.
Understanding Early Intervention for Cerebral Palsy
Early intervention is ideal for infants with cerebral palsy because it takes advantage of the extremely adaptive features of the developing brain.
Although early intervention will not treat cerebral palsy, it can significantly improve motor functions and prevent or delay the development of secondary complications.
Don’t wait until symptoms become problematic. Seek early intervention therapies to promote neuroplasticity and maximize mobility.
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