Upper Extremity Strength in Children with Cerebral Palsy

Many children with Cerebral Palsy can benefit from pediatric occupational therapy. This is a condition that most people have heard of, but not everyone is familiar with what “Cerebral Palsy” actually means. To provide a comprehensive definition from www.cerebralpalsy.org:

“While Cerebral Palsy … is a blanket term commonly referred to as ‘CP’ and described by loss or impairment of motor function, Cerebral Palsy is actually caused by brain damage. The brain damage is caused by brain injury or abnormal development of the brain that occurs while a child’s brain is still developing — before birth, during birth, or immediately after birth.”

Children with CP will also experience physical impairments, which are typically visible. As noted by the Mayo Clinic, not every individual experiences symptoms of Cerebral Palsy in the same way. Many of the physical impairments caused by CP will affect the proprioception and coordination of a person, which is where an occupational therapist (or OT) can be especially helpful. Some of the symptoms of CP include atypical muscle tone (either too much or too little), delayed motor skills, and lack of coordination with muscle movements.

While some of these symptoms can occur in individuals with CP, it does not mean that they necessarily will. One of the most (seemingly) difficult aspects of treating Cerebral Palsy is that every individual affected by the condition experiences the symptoms differently. As a result, pediatric occupational therapists who work with children with CP must adapt their treatment plans for each unique case.

Prior to beginning treatment with a pediatric OT, the therapist will complete an assessment to determine the needs of the child in occupational therapy sessions. Occupational therapy sessions may occur in different settings, including in-home, private practices, hospitals, or at school.

If a child experiences reduced upper extremity strength as a result of Cerebral Palsy, a pediatric occupational therapist might work with them to increase these muscle functions. If the upper extremities are affected, an individual might experience reduced function of their arm (including the shoulder) and hand muscles.

During occupational therapy, the OT will work with the parents or caregivers to create a unique treatment plan to target the needs of their child. The sessions will focus on building skills that the child needs to complete their daily occupations/activities. If a child needs to build upper extremity strength in their sessions, their OT might create a plan of exercises that use these muscle groups, including reaching for/grabbing objects, holding a crayon to color, or developing their handwriting skills.

If you have questions about pediatric occupational therapy, Chicago Occupational Therapy provides many services for children, including ABA therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, and a therapeutic preschool program.

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Definition of Cerebral Palsy. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.cerebralpalsy.org/about-cerebral-palsy/definition
Mayo Clinic Staff Print. (2016, August 25). Cerebral palsy. Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/cerebral-palsy/symptoms-causes/dxc-20236552