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Cerebral Palsy Factsheet (for Schools)

Reviewed by: Larissa Hirsch, MD
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What Teachers Should Know

Cerebral palsy (CP) is a condition that affects muscle tone, movement, and coordination.

CP affects each child differently. Some kids have balance problems that affect how they walk. Some have trouble with small movements, like forming letters on a page. Others have problems with more areas of the body, including the arms, legs, and face. This can make it hard to walk, talk, see, hear, learn, and more. Some kids with CP also have other medical problems, like seizures.

There’s no cure for CP, but therapy can help improve a child’s skills. Kids may benefit from occupational therapy (OT), physical therapy (PT), and speech therapy. To get around, they may have braces, crutches, or a wheelchair. Kids also may use technology for writing and communicating.

What Teachers Can Do

Educators, therapists, parents, and students with CP can work together to create an educational plan. This may include setting up an individualized education program (IEP) or 504 plan to help kids reach their full potential. Plans may include therapy, a classroom aide, and more. As a child grows, this plan will change.

To support students in your classroom:

  • Keep walkways open. Make your classroom easy to move through and free of obstacles. Students may need extra help moving around or reaching things. 
  • Be aware of seating arrangements, and adjust if they aren’t working. Kids with CP who are self-conscious of uncontrolled movements or other differences may want to sit in the back or away from others. Try to put kids near other students who encourage them to be involved in activities.
  • Give extra time, if needed. Some kids may need more time to travel between classes, complete assignments or activities, and take tests. They might need extra bathroom breaks too. Talk to the student and parent to find out what’s best. 
  • Have a plan for missed instruction, assignments, and testing. Students with CP may miss class time to go to doctor visits or to see the school nurse to take medicine. Know how the student will make up for missed time.
  • Talk about and celebrate differences. Students with CP want to be accepted like everyone else. But sometimes they’re targeted by others who see them as “different.” Talk about and celebrate differences, and focus on the interests that kids share. Be mindful of bullying, and keep a zero-tolerance policy for that behavior.
  • Be prepared for medical emergencies by planning ahead with parents. Know what to do and who to call if a student with CP has a medical emergency or event, like a seizure. 

By addressing a child’s unique needs and offering support when needed, you can help students with CP learn as best as possible.

Reviewed by: Larissa Hirsch, MD
Date reviewed: March 2021