Communication and Cerebral Palsy

Since speech development, voice production, and facial expressions can be limited in children living with cerebral palsy (CP), teaching your child how to communicate effectively may seem challenging, but it can be done with the correct training and assistance. The severity of CP varies according to each child, and some may need more help than others. The key is finding the right balance and techniques that will work for your child.

Early Intervention

The sooner you can assess your child’s communications needs, the better. With early intervention, a speech pathologist, occupational therapist, and other related professionals can help pinpoint the types of education and training your child needs in order to communicate more successfully. Early intervention typically starts before six years of age. Although there is no set age in which you start early intervention with your infant, experts suggest starting when they are least 1 to 2 years of age.

Early intervention will help you understand what factors limit your child’s communication skills. For example, it’s common for children with CP to have hearing or sight problems. Some children have more extensive hearing problems than other children with CP, while others may need more help with seeing. A combination of both hearing and sight problems are also typical in children with CP. Once you begin intervention, your healthcare provider will be able to determine if your child needs specialized devices in order to communicate or if cognitive and speech therapy alone will help.

Augmentative and Alternative Communication

In severe cases of CP, a child may not be able to communicate in a way that others understand. However, there are a few options available that will help your child communicate successfully with others.

  • Manual Strategies: Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) is defined as means to allow people with disabilities a means to communicate and express thoughts, feelings, needs, and wants. In some cases, a child with CP can benefit from manual strategies such as sign language, handheld boards that include pictures of daily living items, sign language, and body language training.
  • Electronic Communication-Assisted Devices: When technology constantly changing, more and more options are opening up for people who alternative communication means. Touch-pad devices, advanced hearing aid, and tablet-based communication programs can assist your child in communicating with you. For children who have difficulty pointing, options such as infrared head pointers, scanning devices, and ACC tablet applications.

Additional Tips

Some parents worry that their children will never learn to speak or refuse to speak if they are given assistance via devices. However, studies suggest that utilizing AAC regularly will actually enhance and promote a child’s speech potential.

Furthermore, it’s important to remember not to dwell too much on whether your child with CP can speak or not. Although every parent wants their child to communicate effectively, physicians suggest to focus on setting your child up for success by teaching them all aspects of  communication available.

You’ll eventually be able to discern which method works best for your child. Children with CP have an amazing ability to learn and pick up on things even if it’s hard for them to express it. In time, with diligent training, it’s possible to communicate with your child even if it’s not the traditional way that you’re accustomed to.