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Long term access to Allied Health treatment would greatly benefit those with CP

Photo: CPL
Long term access to Allied Health treatments would have a positive impact on the lives of people with Cerebral Palsy, as well as their families, allowing them to set achievable goals for future planning and comfort.

According to Jo Elmer, Director of Clinical Services at CPL, Cerebral Palsy researchers are increasingly looking into the effectiveness and specific protocols requirement for those with CP, via Allied Health

In other words, the idea that without the intensity and specific type of service, individuals won’t get the desired outcomes.

“More specific details on types of CP and different levels of Allied Health will enhance outcomes – that is an ongoing body of work to be completed, which will ultimately inform families and the government on how to use Allied Health services to manage CP,” says Ms Elmer.
Cerebral Palsy is a physical disability that affects both movement and posture. It is a permanent and a lifelong condition but generally doesn’t worsen over time. In its many forms, Cerebral Palsy is the result of damage during the development of the brain – mostly during childbirth or at a very young age.

CP is generally diagnosed quite early, but symptoms vary depending on age, and are treated in one or more of the following categories.
  1. Medications – children with CP may need this due to complications associated with really high muscle tone, epilepsy, or children may have trouble with reflux as a result of complications with eating and swallowing.
  2. Surgery – some children will have injections of botox that stops muscle from contracting for a temporary period of time. To help a growth spurt or stop contractures. Or they may have surgery to lengthen muscle ligatures.
  3. Allied Health - because of the broad and varied benefits associated with Allied Health, CPL has expanded its service offerings in this area, in the hope that more people with CP and their families with be able to access it long-term.
“Therapists at CPL have always had significant training on what’s called ‘understanding abnormal tone’, which supports children with a range of diagnosis,” says Ms Elmer.

“For example, children with autism can also have abnormal tone, however not to the same extent as those with CP.

“Our therapists are fully trained to support clients’ communication difficulties, swallowing difficulties, physical difficulties and emotional implications. Our therapists also have very significant and specialised skills around mobility, access to the community and communication.”

Specifically, the areas of Allied Health that have the most impact are speech and language pathology, occupational therapy, physiotherapy and social work.

“Speech therapy relates to enhancing a child’s ability to communicate or providing something to assist with alternative ways of communication – this could be a High Tech Communication aid like an electronic communication device or a Low Tech Communication aid like a pointer board with pictures and symbols,” says Ms Elmer.

Speech and language pathology also assists with safety and independence while eating.

“Occupational Therapy involves working with equipment and working to increase independence in the home or school,” says Ms Elmer.

“Finding the right seating, wheelchairs or beds to encourage comfort and better sleep routines; communication or different ways to communicate so they can reach out and operate different pieces of equipment, moderation of cars, and specific therapies looking at enhancing the upper body and arms.”

OT also includes self-care like washing, dressing, eating and accessing the community.

Physiotherapy treatments focuses primarily on lower limb and general strengthening.

“Types include managing complex seating requirements to ensure patients have correct posture in their chair;  adapting strollers so they are safely moving in the community.

“Setting up tricycles and bicycles for children who aren’t able to move around by walking yet; hydrotherapy with a specific program for strengthening, and land-based programs for enhanced muscle mass; developing specialised body suits, which give an extra level of support and control.

“This could also include orthotic devices to help children with alignment issues with their ankles to stand upright.”

Because CP is a permanent disability, it's crucial that those with the condition have access to counselling from social workers.

“It’s really important to provide counselling from social workers for the client and family, and provide access to other people and families affected by CP.

“Parent education and behaviour management area also big factors for social workers.”

Ms Elmer says she would like to see more people with CP access Allied Health services across their lifetime, not just as a one-off.

“It’s hugely important to provide intervention early, but Allied Health services should be accessed long-term.

“There are often times when life gets very busy for families or finding money to access the services becomes difficult.

“We still need to be providing Allied Health services so young people can transition into the general community and into the workforce eventually.

“It’s really important to ensure there’s a good match between the client, service provider, organisation and family.

“Client goals must be updated on a regular basis, which means time and money invested in therapy is going to give the best outcome.”

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Nicole Madigan

Nicole Madigan is a widely published journalist with more than 15 years experience in the media and communications industries.

Specialising in health, business, property and finance, Nicole writes regularly for numerous high-profile newspapers, magazines and online publications.

Before moving into freelance writing almost a decade ago, Nicole was an on-air reporter with Channel Nine and a newspaper journalist with News Limited.

Nicole is also the Director of content and communications agency Stella Communications (www.stellacomms.com) and a children's author.