Other problems associated with cerebral palsy

Some children may face cognitive, sensory or visual challenges alongside their cerebral palsy. Around half of children will have some degree of learning difficulty (varying in severity). While the other half will be of normal or above average intelligence. And, as Professor Stephen Hawking has hopefully taught the world, while some people may have difficulty speaking, this is no indication of intelligence.

Sensory problems

Problems with anxiety and sensory processing are often overlooked, and yet can be quite common in children with cerebral palsy who were born prematurely. Some children can find going to sleep and waking up distressing, and so cry a lot. Others don’t receive the sensory information they need from joints to guide movement.

Therapists specialising in sensory problems can work out if a sleep problem or bizarre movement is triggered by a sensory deficit or a motor problem. There are also number of specialist products on the market to alleviate sensory problems around sleep and play.

The signs

Here are some of the signs a child may be experiencing sensory processing problems:

  • They go from deep sleep to fully awake (missing drowsy) and cry because it’s distressing.
  • Hyper-sensitivity in their hands or feet
  • Bizarre movements

An example

One little boy attending Bobath Therapy in Glasgow was found to have hypersensitivity in his hands and the soles of his feet. He preferred to hold toys by the tips of his fingers because he found it irritating to hold them in his palms. He never learned to walk because he avoided using his hands and feet preferring to shuffle on his bottom with his hands in the air. Because the boy's body had never been weight bearing, his brain had never gathered the sensory information it needed to walk.

To help him learn to walk, therapists helped him build up a tolerance of touch in his hands and feet. Then, using weights on his ankles to give him feedback he was able to build up the sensory information he needed to stand and walk.

The result

The little boy now enjoys a good pattern of walking. At night, now his sensory problems have been identified, he also uses a weighted blanket and vest to get to sleep and feel calm and safe in the morning.

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