• The Harlie Russell Team

Therapy and CP

When a child is diagnosed with cerebral palsy, early intervention is key for long term development. This can include physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy and more. It's a new and daunting time for parents trying to navigate the never ending list of specialists, but vital that they make the most out of these sessions.

Physical therapy is arguably the most crucial. This type of therapy is focused on the child's gross motor skills. The most obvious goal is for the child to walk, but this isn't just about strengthening their legs, it involves strengthening their core and mastering balance. For many children, walking may not be achievable due to the severity of their type of CP. This doesn't mean physiotherapy isn't important. Sitting, crawling, stretching and even head control can be the goals the physiotherapist will set out to achieve. As most early intervention therapies are with children, these sessions are more often than not focused around play. This makes the sessions more fun for the children and less stressful for the parents as they are able to watch their child having fun, rather than a clinical environment with their child being pushed to their limits. When children begin to make physical gains, the therapy is adjusted accordingly and they may even set new and exciting goals.


Occupational therapists aid in the fine motor skill development. This isn't just writing, but can be learning how to hold and use cutlery, manipulating and placing objects, two handed play or simply grasping an object. When Harlie began occupational therapy at 18 months old, she had limited use of her left hand. As her spasticity increased in her body, she was unable to open her hand nor hold objects. It became increasingly difficult for her to fully extend her left arm. Harlie's occupational therapists worked with her on recognising the need for her left hand and by the age of 3, she was able to point her index finger. Yes. The day she pointed her left index finger was an unforgettable day. I remember the amazement I felt and a sudden belief that she can do anything, all because she pointed her finger. It is these small milestones that become momentous occasions in little ones with CP. Harlie can now freely use both of her hands and is now learning how to use cutlery and write letters.


Speech therapy is a common requirement for children with CP. Many sufferers are non verbal due to spasticity in their upper body affecting their face, throat, neck and head. This can also cause difficulty swallowing or can make meal times particularly tiring. Poor posture can also be a factor when it comes to speech. A weak core can mean the child becomes breathless when talking and words become "lazy". A speech therapist works with children to help in all these areas to better their way of communication. Doctors warned that Harlie may never be able to talk, but by 2 years old, she could clearly say 5 words. I was hopeful but guarded at the thought it might not improve from there. Boy was I wrong! Harlie holds the floor wherever she goes. Her first radio interview in February this year she spoke beautifully and I could not be more proud. She still attends speech therapy once a week but has moved on from making sounds to correct sentence structure.


These vital therapies help children gain as much independence as possible from an early age. There are private therapists all over Australia and in Brisbane we have the Lady Cilento Children's Hospital Rehabilitation Clinic and CPL - Choice, Passion, Life who provide these services and more. If you want to find more information on how CPL assists those in the community who require extra care, visit their website www.cpl.org.au




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©2017 BY THE HARLIE RUSSELL FOUNDATION LTD. Photo credits Linda Wiseman & Shaun Clifford