Children with CP who can feed themselves have a better quality of life.
Cerebral palsy is a nonprogressive neurological condition that affects the fetus, or develops during the first 5 years of life. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cerebral palsy is the most common motor disability during childhood, affecting movement of 1 or more parts of the body. Feeding is difficult for children with CP, but adaptive equipment makes it easier for them to feed themselves.
CP is classified into four categories -- spastic, athetoid, ataxic and mixed -- based on a child's symptoms. According to CDC, spastic CP accounts for 80 percent of cases. Excessive muscle tightness affects range of motion and joint mobility. In the arm, spasticity affects muscles that bend the fingers, wrist and elbow, drawing the arm in toward the body. This causes difficulty with daily tasks, such as a child feeding himself. Children with other types of CP may not be able to feed themselves because they can't control various parts of their bodies.
Eating and CP
According to a 2011 article in "Developmental Neurorehabilitation," problems with using the muscles in the mouth are relatively common in children with CP. These issues are caused by weak sucking ability, a tongue that moves slowly or not at all, a tongue that twitches or the inability to tightly close the lips. Also, the child may have weak trunk muscles, making it hard to sit in the proper position for feeding himself. Children with CP continue to have problems feeding themselves as they get older. Feeding and swallowing problems associated with CP often lead to malnutrition.
Occupational therapists work with children with CP to train them to feed themselves. Proper positioning is vital for a child with CP to be able to feed himself. Weak trunk muscles make it difficult for the child to sit upright for eating. Adaptive seating holds the hips in a neutral position -- keeping them from tilting backward or forward -- to provide a stable base for the rest of the spine. Chest and hip straps secure the child's trunk in proper alignment. Head supports assist weak neck muscles with head control. Tray attachments keep food within reach to make it easier for the child to eat.
Adaptive Eating Utensils
It can be difficult for children with CP to eat with their fingers if they have trouble controlling their hands. Many children with CP learn to feed themselves with a spoon. Padded handles increase the diameter to make it easier to grip. You can buy large-handled spoons or wrap a towel or foam around regular spoon handles to pad them. For children who cannot grasp a handle, there are spoons with cuff attachments, which are secured with straps. Weighted handles improve muscle control, while curved spoons can help if the child has problems bending his arm.
Adaptive cups help children with CP to be able to drink comfortably. Cut-out cups allow the child to drink without tilting his head backward -- the cut-out keeps the cup from bumping into his nose. Cups with straws and lids may also allow a child to drink without help. Adaptive plates and bowls have raised, curved edges so the child can more easily scoop food onto the spoon.
Children with CP sometimes have vision problems. Dishes and cups with highly contrasting colors help children distinguish between items. Some plates have a clock face on them so the child can describe where on a plate a certain item is. A sectioned tray may also help the child find each type of food more easily.