Wondering what kinds of activities a child with cerebral palsy will work on in occupational therapy?
This article will explain the goals and techniques used by occupational therapists to help improve mobility and boost independence in children with CP. Let’s get started!
Occupational Therapy for Children with Cerebral Palsy
Occupational therapy is a healthcare intervention that helps individuals optimize their independence by focusing on activities of daily living.
Unlike physical therapy (which focuses on improving flexibility, range of motion, and strength through exercise), occupational therapy uses practical tasks and activities to prepare your child for everyday situations like:
- Self-care tasks (eating, sleeping, bathing, grooming, toileting, transferring, etc.)
- Using adaptive tools and mobility aids
- Communicating with others and behaving in a socially appropriate manner
- Participating in school-related activities and play
Cerebral palsy is a spectrum condition that describes a wide variety of motor impairments caused by damage to the developing brain.
Because every case of CP is unique, occupational therapy for cerebral palsy needs to be tailored to each child’s specific needs.
Common motor impairments related to cerebral palsy include irregular muscle tone, stiffness, poor balance and coordination, and uncontrollable movements.
An occupational therapist will assess your child’s strengths and weaknesses, and then create a personalized activity program to develop functional independence.
Occupational Therapy Activities for Cerebral Palsy
The goal of occupational therapy for cerebral palsy is to enhance functional abilities using a variety of interventions and approaches.
At occupational therapy, children with cerebral palsy may practice activities like:
- Turning a doorknob
- Putting away toys after play
- Clipping clothes pins onto surfaces
- Painting, drawing, and coloring
- Inserting and twisting a key to unlock/ lock a door
- Wiping down a table
- Flipping through the pages of a book
- Waiting for their turn while playing games
- Typing on a keyboard
- Dressing (fastening and undoing a button; opening and closing a zipper)
- Using silverware
- Developing a nighttime routine (brushing teeth, washing face, changing into pajamas, etc.)
- Moving around in a wheelchair or using other mobility aids
- Wearing orthotics
These activities are designed to be practical and encourage your child to interact with their environment.
Importance of Early Intervention for Cerebral Palsy
Seeking early intervention for your child’s cerebral palsy can make all the difference. Addressing your child’s needs early on generally will help them to learn and progress more quickly.
Children’s brains have increased levels of plasticity, meaning that they absorb information and pick up new skills quicker than adult brains.
Unlike adults, children with CP don’t go to occupational therapy to recover essential skills, but rather to develop them for the first time.
Occupational therapy for cerebral palsy must promote neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to create new neural connections and rewire functions affected by brain damage to healthier regions.
The best way to optimize neuroplasticity is through massed repetitive practice. Every movement you make stimulates a specific set of neural pathways. When you practice a task or activity for the first time or in a different way, you stimulate a new set of neural pathways.
The more you repeat that movement, the stronger the neural pathways become. The goal is to practice them so much that they become second nature.
Because children’s brains are so flexible, it is much easier for them to acquire new skills.
Benefits of Occupational Therapy Activities for Cerebral Palsy
Learning how to perform everyday tasks can boost a child’s self-esteem and confidence.
This will encourage them to continue to practice the repetitions they need to promote neuroplasticity and enhance their functional abilities.
By practicing occupational therapy activities, children with cerebral palsy may learn how to:
- Explore and interact with their surroundings
- Follow a routine or activity schedule
- Perform activities of daily living more independently
- Adjust and problem solve
- Improve coordination skills
Because the activities are personalized, task-specific, and practical, children acquire skills that they will continue to use for the rest of their lives.
That’s a wrap! Hopefully, this article helped you better understand what kinds of activities an occupational therapist may work on with your child and the purpose behind them.
Featured image: ©iStock.com/AndreaObzerova