When your child with cerebral
palsy is ready for school, expect a whole new world of opportunities and challenges.
The right education plan
can help your child reach his or her full potential. But school is not just about
academics and skill-building. Just like his or her peers, your child is navigating
friendships and social situations.
Follow this 7-step checklist to help your child succeed during the elementary school
Step 1: Look Into an IEP
Children with cerebral palsy usually are diagnosed within the first few years of
life and receive services before reaching kindergarten. Many of them are identified
as children who need an individualized education
The IEP team might determine that your child needs the help of a classroom aide
or would benefit from physical therapy,
speech therapy, or occupational
therapy. While you can't insist upon certain services, you can appeal the IEP
if you feel that it is not meeting your child's needs.
Also, some children who do not qualify for an IEP can get educational assistance
through a 504 plan, which provides
for accommodations that improve a child's learning experience.
Step 2: Get Tech Savvy
Technology can help kids with cerebral palsy complete tasks and reach goals that
would be too difficult to do on their own. For a child who has trouble walking independently,
forearm crutches, braces, a walker, a gait trainer, or a wheelchair can help. For
kids who find it difficult to speak, computer programs and electronic devices can
vocalize their thoughts.
Your child's physical, occupational, and speech therapists can help identify which
assistive devices will benefit your child the most. They also can help you learn how
to get these devices.
Step 3: Plan Activities and Play Dates
Social activities are just as important for a child with cerebral palsy as they
are for all kids. Many sports programs, such as Special
League Challenger Division, and TOPSoccer,
can help your child to be physically active while also meeting new friends who have
similar challenges. Therapeutic horseback riding programs and aquatic therapy are
also great ways to keep kids active.
If your child has made a friend at school, invite the child over for a play date
or meet at a park or for ice cream. Whether the friend has a disability or not, friendships
help all kids develop important social skills and make them more sensitive to the
needs of others.
Step 4: Secure Your Child's Future
If you have not written a will or set up a legal
and financial framework for your child's future, it's not too late. Talk with
an attorney who specializes in special needs law and a financial advisor to find the
best way to manage your assets and prepare financially for your child's adulthood.
If you have already written a will, it's a good idea to review it from time to
time to make sure that the custodial plan you made when your
child was younger is still the best option.
Step 5: Find Support
Dealing with the day-to-day challenges of parenting a child with CP can be overwhelming.
Having a strong support network
can help you power through even the most challenging days. To connect with other parents
who understand your situation, find a local support group or get involved with your
area United Cerebral Palsy affiliate.
If a local group isn't available, look for online support.
Respite care can be a saving
grace for you and the rest of your family. Just a few hours a week can give you the
time you need to recharge. ARCH National Respite Network maintains a database
of respite services.
Step 6: Address Emotional Needs
At times your child may feel left out, left behind, or bullied. Kids with disabilities
sometimes feel very different from other children, and this can make them feel angry
Be on the lookout for signs that your child is being bullied,
including a reluctance to go to school, decreased appetite, trouble sleeping, or unexplained
crying. If your child is being bullied, speak with school administrators as soon as
possible. At home, talk with your child about the experience and use role play to
teach him or her how to ignore bullies and report problems to trusted friends and
As puberty approaches, your child will be dealing with new emotions that are part
of normal development.
Step 7: Prepare for Puberty
Talk with your doctor about what to expect as your child matures, and how to handle
it. Reassure your child that the changes that come with puberty are normal. Girls
who get their periods will need to learn new hygiene habits, while boys might need
reassurance that wet dreams are normal.
The move into the teen years brings the reality that your child will soon become
an adult. Your child's IEP team and therapists will help you create a plan for your
child's future — including where he or she will live and whether higher education
or the workforce are options. Learn more about the transition IEP, which sometimes
starts as early as age 14, in our Cerebral
Palsy Checklist: Teens & Young Adults.