Charities step up to the challenge of providing virtual therapy for children with cerebral palsy

20th May 2020 Clinical Negligence

With the strict lockdown rules we have all been living with since March 23 it was a relief this week to be given a very modest easing of the restrictions.

We are all missing out on the routine of our usual lives as a result of social distancing but for a majority of us this will hopefully not have any long lasting effects and we will pick up where we left off, albeit in a new normal.

However, I have been thinking about my clients with cerebral palsy who require various different therapies to improve their quality of life but will have been severely restricted due to Covid-19. Ongoing therapy is vitally important for children with cerebral palsy. It can keep them fit and healthy and improve function and independence. Without it they may be left with additional pain, reduced mobility and regressed communication skills. Parents will have to be trying to plug the shortfall as best they can at the moment which is far from ideal and puts additional pressure on the whole family.

What is cerebral palsy?

Cerebral palsy is a motor disorder caused by brain damage sustained during pregnancy, birth or in the first few weeks of life. In the children I and the other brain injury specialist solicitors at JMW represent it has often been caused by a delay in delivery as a baby.

Cerebral Palsy can affect muscle control, coordination, and tone, reflexes, posture and balance, depending on the timing and nature of brain damage in different ways. The damage can cause muscles to be stiff or weak (spasticity) or affect muscle tone causing spasms.  Balance and co-ordination can be affected. The effects can be mild, for example it may be difficult to open your hand to grip or very severe, so that you cannot move your limbs in any controlled way on your own.

One in three children with cerebral palsy is unable to walk and one in four children with cerebral palsy cannot feed or dress themselves.

How does therapy help?

The benefits of therapy are wide-ranging and can make an enormous difference to the quality of life of children with cerebral palsy.

With intensive therapies some children can learn to walk, with or without an aid, and/or communicate.  The parents of a client of mine were told their daughter would not be able to walk but with an intensive programme of conductive education and physiotherapy she was able to learn to walk enough to get around the home and even to manage stairs

Occupational therapy can help with tasks such as getting dressed and holding a pencil. Meanwhile speech and language therapy (SLT) can help develop ways of communicating and helping with eating and drinking. Speech and language therapists can also teach an alternative method of communication, such as sign language or using pictures.

As well as supporting children on a physical and practical level therapy can help mentally and emotionally - imagine the frustration of wanting a toy which although in front of you  cannot reach and grab or needing to go to the toilet but you cannot go on your own and you cannot tell anyone.

For some children with cerebral palsy, therapies are required for medical reasons. One client of mine received physiotherapy to help stop the spine contracting and curving to keep their chest open and to improve lung function. This helped to prevent chest infections and scoliosis of the spine from occurring which would have required surgery.

What’s the current situation with therapy?

For therapy to make a difference these children need expert, regular committed input from trained specialists.

Many clients of JMW have weekly or twice weekly sessions with therapists at school or at home, with family doing exercises as instructed and guided by the therapists in between.

Currently most of these children aren’t at school and therapists can’t come to their house, meaning parents are left trying to fulfill the role of therapist as well as parent, carer and teacher. To some extent they are used to this - many families do exercises with their children between therapy sessions.  However what is missing is the advice, assistance and support of a therapist.

That’s why virtual courses are so helpful and there are charities who are providing this. In London, Bobath is offering the below:

  • Weekly Welcomes - a free personal 1-2-1 session with a therapist of up to 45 minutes, to enable families to find out all about Bobath Therapy. This virtual service is available to both children and adults.

Virtual Therapy - a 45 min video consultation to existing service users – Here families and patients discuss progress, their programme and receive therapy tips from a Bobath therapist.  

In the north of England, Rainbow Hub is offering the children it supports online therapy sessions to ensure they don’t miss out due to Covid-19 and that their families are supported too at what is already a very stressful time.

With things now starting to ease slightly hopefully it won’t be too long before face-to-face sessions can resume safely but until they can it is great to see these charities rising to the challenge of providing virtual therapy.










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Nicola Wainwright is a Partner and Head of London Clinical Negligence located in Londonin our Clinical Negligence department

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