Physical therapy usually begins in the first few years of life and use specific sets of exercises to work toward three important goals:
- Preventing the weakening or deterioration of muscles that can follow lack of use (called disuse atrophy);
- Avoiding contracture, in which muscles become fixed in a rigid, abnormal position;
- Improve the child's motor development
As the child with cerebral palsy approaches school age, the emphasis of therapy shifts away from early motor development. Efforts now focus on preparing the child for the classroom, helping the child master activities of daily living,
and maximizing the child's ability to communicate. These include:
- Preparing for the classroom by improving his or her ability to sit, move independently or in a wheelchair, or perform precise tasks, such as writing.
- Developing such skills as feeding himself or herself, getting dressed, or using the bathroom.
As a child with cerebral palsy grows older, the need for and types of therapy and other support services will continue to change. Continuing physical therapy addresses movement problems and is supplemented by:
- Vocational training, recreation and leisure programs, and special education when necessary.
- Counseling for emotional and psychological challenges may be needed at any age, but is often most critical during adolescence.
- Depending on their physical and intellectual abilities, adults may need attendant care, living accommodations, transportation, or employment opportunities