Physical therapy is one of the key treatments for CP, so it’s likely that your child has close contact with a physiotherapist.
As well as the obvious benefits of having dedicated professional attention, physical therapy can help with all kinds of areas of personal development: from developing new motor skills, to improving existing skills and abilities, and also giving confidence and inspiration so that children can participate in sports and other leisure activities.
So it’s an excellent idea to engage your child with physical therapy – but in order to optimise it, we’ve developed a list of questions you might wish to ask your healthcare professional, in order to make your child’s physical therapy as useful as possible.
1. What’s the best way to start?
By asking questions, and being open-minded. The treatment plan will be unique for each child, depending on the severity of the CP. So it’s important to set the goals together with your child and the therapist. Whatever your fears may be (“Will it hurt my child?” “I’m worried about someone else touching him/her”) ask away. Don’t worry about sounding naïve, or silly. Your therapist is there to support you and your child.
2. What can I do at home?
A very important question. It may be that some kind of physical therapy is worth doing daily, in which case find out how far to take it, so that it doesn’t become a chore for your child or yourself. Ask about ways to switch exercises around, so that they don’t become a dull routine. And between you and your therapist, plan ways to ensure that they remain fun, so that your child doesn’t get bored or starts to see them as a hardship. Ask your physiotherapist to go through the exercises with you, so you feel comfortable doing them at home.
3. What sources can I trust when I’m searching for information?
According to one survey conducted by Pew Research Center, 72 percent of us use search engines to look up health information. But always remember that information on the web comes from all kinds of sources: some trustworthy, others not so much. We’d advise caution. Use the web as a starting point – as if part of a huge public conversation – and never as a diagnostic tool. If you have read something online that you are not sure about, ask your physiotherapist.
4. Which sports or activities are recommended for my child?
It’s good to participate in sports and activities, and we all know that physical activity is palliative, reduces sedentary behaviour and maintains muscle tone.
From football to netball, physical activity also offers social benefits, from interaction with others to a sense of achievement. So ask your physical therapist which sports and games would suit your child, depending on his or her stage of development. Ask around. Very often there are local teams that would love to hear from you and your child.
5. What activities do you suggest if my child doesn’t like sports?
Not every child likes playing sports. If this is true for your child, never fear: there’s no reason to be inactive. There are loads of fun activities you can try, such as girls/boys scouting, treasure hunts, obstacle courses or games like hide and seek. The main goal is to stay active while having fun.
6. What type of helping aid is relevant for my child? When should we bring them on?
Helping aids allow your child to do all kinds of things they might otherwise find difficult. They range from mobility devices such as stool scooters, to communication devices and things that enable creativity, like adaptive art supplies. They can make life easier, and better. They may even take your child towards a degree of self-reliance.
But ask your therapist when the best age is to get your child to engage with them (and when to let them go, too). And don’t just stack your ‘shopping basket’ with them – talk to your physical therapist about which ones would really benefit your child.
7. Does my child need orthotics? If so, where do I go?
Orthotics are part of physical therapy and the term refers to the devices that is worn to help your child’s mobility and skills. There’s a whole (and growing) range of them – including braces, splints and shoes – and increasingly, they’re custom-made for each child.
Just like shoes, or teeth braces, they need to be changed as your child grows. Generally, their point is to establish more stable movement, and so orthotics are considered a good thing – although be alert for discomfort in your child’s orthotics. Remember that some children with CP have deformities that can cause pain, so make sure that orthotics don’t worsen your child’s experience: physical therapy should be restorative, not punishing. And make sure they fit. This is an area where an evaluation from your physical therapist is invaluable.