By Virginia Cunningham, guest contributor
Did you know that approximately 800,000 people in the United States are affected by cerebral palsy? Despite this, we know the potential of the brain is absolutely remarkable and there are many ways to help people with cerebral palsy surpass their current limitations. The sister of one of my friends has cerebral palsy and is the most cheerful person I have ever met, despite needing a walker. She has a great job teaching, is married to a devoted husband, and has three beautiful children.
She has, without a doubt, been an amazing inspiration for me. And ever since I met her, I’ve spent a good deal of time looking into alternative therapies for those with cerebral palsy–in the hope of helping parents with a child who has the same condition. Please keep in mind that, while many of these practices have not been fully tested or approved by the medical community, some have found these alternative therapies to be effective. I myself have seen children thrive as a result of practicing several of these. In addition to the actual benefits, I am a firm believer that engaging your children (disabled or otherwise) and spending time with them at these exercises is the true therapy. Your children will thrive because of your love and attention. Definitely consult your physician as well as specialists–they can help you set the most effective routine for your child. However, take advantage of the healing benefits of the therapies below.
Bring out the kick boards and hand paddles
When your child is old enough, get them swimming! The earlier you start, the better. I’ve taught swimming lessons and coached swim teams on-and-off for ten years, and some of my best students have been ones with physical disabilities like cerebral palsy.
Image Courtesy of Pixabay
Swimming does wonders for their muscles since they aren’t fighting gravity as much, and it is a life skill that they will be able to use forever. It also tends to put the child on an even playing field with their peers and it’s fun!
Let’s get galloping (though maybe not so literally)
In addition, try horseback riding (known as equine-assisted therapy, or hippotherapy, in the medical community). It stretches and strengthens muscles that are often forgotten, leading to better posture and function. Controlled trials show significant improvements in walking, running, and jumping–with improvements lasting up to sixteen weeks.
Image courtesy of Pixabay
The bond created between a horse and their rider is magical beyond words and I really can’t describe how much horseback riding could help! It’d also be a good hobby for the both of you in the future.
Balancing the body in all ways
Additional body movement therapies promote emotional, mental, physical and spiritual balance and well-being. There is a broad range of Eastern and Western movement methods worth looking into, including Feldenkrais Method, Alexander Technique, Rolfing Structural Integration, Pilates and Trager Psychophysical Integration.
Another type of therapy that may be of interest is called conductive education, which is a program aimed at avoiding “learned helplessness” and promoting independent functioning through repetition, verbalization and discouragement of adaptive equipment.
After World War II, a Hungarian doctor by the name of Adres Peto strongly believed that just because a child was born with brain damage, it didn’t mean they were incapable of learning skills that could lead to an independent life. The Peto Institute was formed almost sixty years ago, where full-time teachers (conductors) show children how to move and have them repeat the routines until exhaustion. While it may sound a bit offsetting to some, the idea behind it is that if the brain is forced to try, it will find a way to connect mind and muscle.
Hyperbaric Oxygen therapy
Although it is not a widely agreed upon treatment for traumatic brain injury, there are a variety of studies currently undergoing recruitment and trials for Hyperbaric Oxygen. That being said, the theory behind how it works is that higher oxygen concentration enhances aerobic metabolic activity of CNS tissue, limiting the damaging effect of anaerobic metabolites and helping damaged mitochondria get their act together a little faster.
There’s a book called Hyperbaric Oxygen for Neurological Disorders by Dr. Zhang that would be a good start if you are interested in learning more. Dr. Paul Harch (who is a big proponent) also writes literature, but I’d take it with a healthy dose of skepticism. There are also a couple overviews that have been written for the NIH and UHMS (Undersea and Hyperbaric Medical Society).
If you have a child or family member with cerebral palsy, challenge them to try new things! Embrace the things they love and never, ever coddle or give up on them. Disability does not equate free pass, and remember, the small things are just as important as the big things. Tell them that life may be hard but to embrace it, and work on life experience and their education. Nothing is impossible unless you want it to be!
Virginia Cunningham is a freelance writer and holistic enthusiast living in the Los Angeles area. As a mother of a special needs child, and in collaboration with Northwest, she often shares her personal experiences with other parents who have special needs children, and encourages them to try consider these therapies. You can learn more about her journey by visiting PrayForNathan.org.