Treatment & Care
Since cerebral palsy affects different children in different ways, your child’s treatment plan will depend on several factors, including:
- her age, overall health, and medical history
- the type of CP she is experiencing
- the extent of her symptoms
- her tolerance for specific medications, procedures or therapies
- the expected course of her cerebral palsy
- you and your family’s preferences for treatment
CP is a lifelong condition that is not correctable, so managing the disorder is focused on:
- preventing or minimizing physical deformities
- improving and enhancing mobility and motion to the greatest possible extent
- maximizing your child's capabilities to succeed at home, at school and in the community
While medication can’t treat or cure cerebral palsy itself, it can be helpful in managing certain symptoms of CP. Medications we may prescribe include:
- antispasmodics, which reduce muscle spasms and relax tightness in the muscles
- anticonvulsants, which can treat seizures in children who experience them as a side effect of CP
- anticholingerics, which can help children who experience dystonia (rigidity) and uncontrollable drooling
Your treating clinician will tell you whether medication is safe and advisable for your child—and, if so, which drugs and dosages are recommended. Medications should only be taken exactly as prescribed by your child's doctor.
Management of cerebral palsy usually includes several non-surgical aids, such as:
seating and positioning aids (used to help the child sit, lie, or stand). These include:
ergonomic chairs that promote correct posture
orthotics (used to prevent deformity and to provide support or protection for the limbs and torso). These devices can include braces and splints. Learn more about the NOPCO Orthotics Shop at Children’s.
special eating utensils: forks, spoons and knives designed for kids with fine motor skill difficulties
special writing utensils: pens and pencils with grips and handles designed for kids with fine motor skill problems
communication aids (used to help children who may be hard to hear or understand, or who have difficulty communicating with others). These can include:
- special books and posters with pictures the child can point to in order to indicate a request or answer a question
- alphabet boards that can be used to spell out messages
- computers with adaptive programs and functions—such as speech-recognition software—for children with disabilities
In some cases, surgery can be a helpful option for managing symptoms of CP.
Children’s orthopedic surgeons have many years of expertise in treating CP symptoms that impact the skeleton and muscles—namely, spasticity and muscle contractures. While not always necessary, we may recommended surgery if your child’s muscle spasms are severe enough to cause problems with movement, balance and coordination.
Likewise, surgery can help reduce spasticity in the legs by elongating or releasing the contracted muscles and tendons that are too short.
Surgical procedures are also used to treat:
- curvatures in the back (scoliosis)
- hip dislocations
- ankle and foot deformities
Some children with CP have pain and spasms severe enough to warrant neurosurgical intervention. Children’s neurosurgeons specialize in procedures that can help control both the pain and the spasms caused by CP, including:
- implantation of the baclofen pump, a device that administers precise dosages of the muscle relaxant baclofen into the child’s spinal column
- partial dorsal rhizotomy, an operation that cuts certain nerves in the spine to reduce spasticity and improve the child’s movement and posture
It’s important to carefully discuss any recommended surgical procedure with your child’s treating clinician. Our orthopedic surgeons and neurosurgeons are always available to answer questions and address any concerns you may have.
Physical and occupational therapy
Physical therapy—either alone or in combination with orthotic devices like a brace or splint—can be extremely beneficial in preventing muscle contractures by stretching your child’s spastic muscles. Many children receive regular physical therapy to take part in stretches, strengthening exercises and play activities that can help them improve their:
Occupational therapy is very helpful in giving children with cerebral palsy independence, confidence and essential life skills. The occupational therapist will use exercises, games and training to help your child:
- develop better fine motor skills for holding and grasping objects
- improve hand-eye coordination
- use adaptive computer programs and other technologies to improve communication
- learn techniques for anger and stress management
- master basic skills, such as:
- feeding themselves
- getting dressed
Speech, swallowing and communication therapy
Speech therapy allows many children with CP improve difficulties with communication, swallowing and feeding. A speech therapist can work with your child to:
- more easily form words through better mouth movements
- learn and follow sign language
- use communication aids, like adaptive computer programs and specialized picture books
- strengthen the tongue
- improve chewing and drinking ability
Treatment in the Children's Cerebral Palsy Program
The Children’s Hospital Boston Cerebral Palsy Program is devoted to providing knowledgeable, compassionate care in a family-centered atmosphere. We are focused on maximizing your child’s functional independence, stability and quality of life while offering support for your entire family.
Here at Children's, your child will be treated by an expert, interdisciplinary team that may include the following people:
developmental pediatricians: family practitioners who provide medical care for infants, children and adolescents, and can refer patients to specialists in various medical fields
orthopedic surgeons: surgeons who specialize in treating conditions involving the muscles, ligaments, tendons and bones
neurologists: physicians who specialize in understanding and treating conditions affecting the brain, spinal cord and nerves
neurosurgeons: surgeons who perform operations to address brain and spinal cord disorders and diseases
ophthalmologists: physicians who diagnose and treat eye and vision problems
pediatric dentists: specialists who examine and care for a child’s teeth, gums and mouth
neuroscience nurses: nursing professionals with specialized training in treating conditions affecting the brain, spine and nerves
orthotists: specialists who make braces, splints and other corrective and support devices
physical therapists: specialists who help kids improve or maintain movement and mobility with exercises and other therapies
speech therapists: health professionals who evaluate, diagnose and treat speech, language and swallowing problems
occupational therapists: specialists who help kids learn new life and self-care skills, developmental exercises and activities
audiologists: health professionals who diagnose and treat hearing loss and impairment
- child psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers: specialists who assess, identify and treat mental and behavioral health problems, emotional and psychosocial issues and stress affecting children and families
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Coping and support
When your child has cerebral palsy, your family is dealing with many different concerns and worries. Not only are you focused on meeting all of your child’s medical needs; you are also grappling with a significant emotional and psychological toll that affects every member of your family.
In addition to the clinical information offered on this page, Children’s has several other resources designed to give your family comfort, support and guidance.
Patient and family resources at Children’s
Children’s Augmentative Communication Program provides comprehensive evaluation and treatment services for children with conditions that affect their communication and learning abilities. Please call 781-216-2209 to learn more.
The Cerebral Palsy Experience Journal is an online collection of stories, photos and anecdotes from children with cerebral palsy, their families and their clinicians.
Children’s Center for Continence of Urine and Bowel (CUB) is a multidisciplinary program that treats and supports children with bowel and bladder control problems related to neuromuscular, spinal and other disorders. Please call 617-355-6055 for more information.
Children’s Clinical Genetics Program provides diagnostic services and genetic counseling for patients and families with birth defects and other developmental problems. Please call 857-218-4637 to learn more.
The hospital’s Complex Care Services deliver essential medical care to children with birth defects, genetic disorders and other multifaceted health care needs. For more information, please call 617-355-6162.
The Gait Laboratory uses state-of-the-art diagnostic technologies to evaluate children with complex walking difficulties. Call 617-573-2203 for more information.
Children’s publishes a free Guide to Managing Spasticity in Children with CP (.pdf) with helpful information for parents and other caregivers.
The Behavioral Medicine Clinic helps children who are being treated on an outpatient basis at the hospital—as well as their families—understand and cope with their feelings about:
- being sick
- facing uncomfortable procedures
- handling pain
- taking medication
- preparing for surgery
- changes in friendships and family relationships
- managing school while dealing with an illness
- grief and loss
Children’s Psychiatry Consultation Service provides several services, including:
- short-term therapy for children admitted to one of our inpatient units
- parent and sibling consultations
- teaching healthy coping skills for the whole family
- educating members of the medical treatment team about the relationship between physical illness and psychological distress
Children’s Center for Families is dedicated to helping families locate the information and resources they need to better understand their child’s particular condition and take part in their care. All patients, families and health professionals are welcome to use the center’s services at no extra cost. The Center for Families is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., and on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Please call 617-355-6279 for more information.
The Children’s chaplaincy is a source of spiritual support for parents and family members. Our program includes nearly a dozen clergy members—representing Episcopal, Jewish, Lutheran, Muslim, Roman Catholic, Unitarian and United Church of Christ traditions—who will listen to you, pray with you and help you observe your own faith practices during your child’s treatment.
Throughout the hospital, you'll find clinicians trained in integrative therapies that can make your child feel more comfortable, learn to shift focus away from pain and enjoy some peaceful moments during what may be an anxious time.
Children's International Center is a dedicated resource for patients and families from countries outside the United States. The center can provide assistance with everything from reviewing medical records to setting up appointments and locating lodging. Contact the center by phone at 01-617-355-5209 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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View Children's helpful resource guide for patients and their families.
Please note that neither Children’s Hospital Boston nor the Cerebral Palsy Program at Children’s unreservedly endorses all of the information found at the sites listed below. These links are provided as a resource.
Helpful links for parents and families
- American Academy for Cerebral Palsy and Developmental Medicine
- Cerebral Palsy Connection
- Cerebral Palsy Network
- Cerebral Palsy Summer Camps for Kids and Teens
- CPParent Mailing List
- Exceptional Parent Magazine
- Family Village
- Federation for Children with Special Needs (Massachusetts)
- How Can I Help? Information for Friends and Relatives of a Child with Cerebral Palsy
- Institute for Community Inclusion (Massachusetts)
- KidPower Online Support Group
- National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities: Cerebral Palsy
- National Institutes of Health: Cerebral Palsy Information Page
- Scope: For Disabled People Achieving Equality
- Susie's Cerebral Palsy Homepage
- United Cerebral Palsy
- Worldwide Education and Awareness for Movement Disorders (WEMOVE)
Helpful links for teens
- A Teen's Blog on Cerebral Palsy
- BlazeSports America: Empowering Athletes with Disabilities
Helpful links for younger children