Cerebral palsy refers to a group of disorders affecting brain and nervous system functions, including muscle tone, motor skills, cognitive functioning, vision, hearing, and speech. It is a life long disability with no cure. Injury to the brain often occurs while the child is still in the womb but can occur during childbirth or in the early stages of brain development after birth.
Symptoms are often noticed between birth and three years of age, as children with cerebral palsy often miss important developmental milestone. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention cites approximately 10,000 children are diagnosed with cerebral palsy each year.
These children may be educated in either a general education classroom or a special education classroom, depending on their individual needs. Educating those with cerebral palsy means addressing each challenge or symptom cohesively. Children often receive Occupational Therapy, Physical Therapy, and Speech Therapy through early intervention services and during their school years. These therapies are crucial for strengthening and coordinating academic, motor, and communication skills. Educators, therapists, and parents also focus closely on self-care and daily living skills to increase the child's independence. Skills such as dressing, bathing, feeding, and home cleaning tasks are targeted from a very young age.
Classrooms should be arranged with the child's motor skills in mind, so the child may move about freely and safely. Children may require supports such as pencil grips, modified writing paper, or access to technology to complete assignments. For students with profound difficulties in writing, oral assessments may be given in school. For speech and language challenges, assistive technology may be needed to allow the child to communicate with staff, peers, and family members. Preferential seating and FM audio amplification systems may be beneficial for children with hearing or vision deficits.
It is crucial that the team of professionals educating children with cerebral palsy consult and overlap services to address the multitude of possible needs a child may have. For example, an issue in the area of speech and language could relate to motor, cognitive functioning, or sensory issues and it is important that each member of the team assess and provide suggestions in their area of expertise.
Educators and family members working with children with cerebral palsy must treat the child as an individual and work together as a team to support her academic, social, physical, and emotional growth.
Jennifer Cerbasi teaches at a public school for children on the autism spectrum in New Jersey. As a coordinator of Applied Behavioral Analysis programs in the home, she works with parents to create and implement behavioral plans for their children in an environment that fosters both academic and social growth. In addition to her work both in the classroom and at home, she is also a member of the National Association of Special Education Teachers and the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.