Cerebral Palsy in the Classroom
Approximately half a million people in the United States have been diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy (CP). CP is a long-term physical condition caused by an abnormality of brain growth or a lesion to the brain, resulting in the impairment of muscular development and control. CP can occur if the mother experiences an injury or disease that affects the fetus, during a traumatic birth, or later in life due to an infection, disease or head trauma.
Symptoms of CP vary from person to person. In many cases, a child with CP may show signs of: muscular weakness, paralysis, lack of coordination, slurred speech, involuntary convulsions, or visual impairment. Some children with CP are ambulatory, while others are wheelchair bound.
If a child has been diagnosed with CP by age 3, then a referral should be made to the Committee on Preschool Special Education (CPSE). The child would be identified as a "preschooler with a disability" and would be provided with whatever related services the CPSE deemed to be appropriate. In most cases, the services would include Occupational Therapy (OT), Physical Therapy (PT) and speech. Studies have proven that by providing services prior to the start of kindergarten, the child will have better success when he enters school.
A Cerebral Palsy child needs to be identified under the Committee on Special Education (CSE) as "Other Health Impaired". An Individualized Educational Plan (IEP) will need to be devised to address the physical needs of the child. Educational approaches that should be considered by the CSE for the child include:
Related services. Most CP children will benefit from Occupational Therapy (OT), Physical Therapy (PT) and speech, if speech has been impacted by the CP. OT and PT will address muscular needs and can be provided as a push-in or pull-out service. If a child is in need of using a wheelchair, then a 1:1 aide will most likely be needed. The aide should encourage as much independence as feasible, but be ready to assist when needed.
Curriculum modifications and adaptations. Many CP children have average or above IQs. Thus, they need access to the same curriculum as their nondisabled peers. However, worksheets, test forms, project guidelines, etc. may need to be modified. Science lab equipment may need to be adapted for the child to safely conduct an experiment. Teachers need to set up their rooms so that wheelchair bound children can easily and safely move around in the room. The child's parent is a great resource in this area. What type of adaptations have been made at home that can be duplicated in the school setting? Adaptive physical education needs to be considered as well.
Assistive technology. For a CP student who lacks fine motor control in his hands, assistive technology is a must. The child might benefit from an enlarged keyboard or a voice activated computer program. For a younger child, a picture/word board might be appropriate. Check with state and local agencies regarding loan closets, funding for assistive technology, and other pertinent teacher resources.
Children with CP should be included in as many class activities as deemed appropriate. There needs to be a collaborative effort between the school and home. As annual reviews are held on the students, the CSE needs to determine if the need for related services should be increased or decreased. Given the right support, most of these children are capable of receiving a regular high school diploma.