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Helping every child with cerebral palsy to achieve their full potential

5 min read

Government Whip and former Transport Minister Paul Maynard MP writes about cerebral palsy which he has had since birth. As a new guide for MPs and their staff is published he writes: "Let’s make sure we play our part in helping every child in the country to gain consistent access to high-quality services, enabling them to achieve their full potential in their future later lives".  

There are approximately 1,800 children diagnosed with cerebral palsy every year and it is the single largest cause of childhood physical disability in the developed world. As MPs, we must make sure we play our part in raising awareness and helping families understand what they can expect for their children’s future.

As an MP with cerebral palsy I was delighted to receive a guide (which fellow MPs should find lands in their inboxes shortly) outlining how we can best support our constituents who have a child with cerebral palsy - an umbrella term for a group of motor disorders which are caused by damage to the developing brain occurring before, during or immediately after birth. While the initial damage to the brain will not get worse, the effect of this damage – depending on which part of the brain has been affected and the severity of the damage – will cause difficulties primarily with the control of movement and posture, mobility and sensory processing, as well as communication, social, self-care and learning skills.

But cerebral palsy is difficult to diagnose, and therefore often misdiagnosed and/or diagnosed late. Parents who have suspicions that their child might have cerebral palsy find it difficult to know who or where to turn to. Once a diagnosis is confirmed, some parents feel that their concerns aren’t delved into and discussed in the depth they feel they need at such a confusing and emotional time. As a result, they feel that they have no idea what to expect for their child’s future. This is where the guide, and us as MPs, come in. We can make a significant difference if we’re able to provide that extra support to our national health service by being the signposts that parents so desperately seek.

The guide, produced by Action Cerebral Palsy, provides a simple outline of cerebral palsy and explains how it can affect a child’s development, and advises MPs on how they should, in turn, advise a constituent that’s been in touch with a question about their child with, or suspected of having, cerebral palsy. It points out which healthcare practitioners they should talk to, which websites to check, which part of their local authority to direct questions to, what local centres to turn to, and much more. The comprehensive information manual is designed to help MPs communicate everything that parents need to know in those crucial first few months.  

And it’s more important than ever that parents know how to act, and quickly. There is currently no cure for cerebral palsy but treatments and interventions are available to assist those with it to live as independent a life as possible. And early identification of cerebral palsy is the first, and in many ways most crucial, step towards making an impact on the life of a child with the condition. 

Children’s brains are their most malleable during the first 2-3 years of life and so can benefit the most from early intervention, including therapies like physiotherapy, speech and language therapy and occupational therapy, all of which have been shown to contribute to infants’ physical, cognitive, social and emotional development. The earlier the diagnosis is made, the earlier these interventions can be applied, the more likely we are to enable these children’s full potential. 

This is what the charity Action Cerebral Palsy is trying to achieve with its ‘Identify, Intervene, Impact’ campaign – it is hoping to improve the early identification of cerebral palsy, to secure timely health and educational intervention to treat and manage it, and to ultimately better the outcomes of all children with the condition. Alongside this incredibly handy guide for MPs and caseworkers, the charity has also launched a resource to help parents easily identify if their child under two might be at risk of cerebral palsy in the form of a document outlining three key milestones in their child’s development that they should watch out for – so do please also send this out to your constituents too where relevant. Early identification very much depends on the knowledge and experience of early years’ practitioners, but parents play a very important role too, which is why it’s crucial that, as MPs, we remain informed and are able to inform our constituents in turn. Not only could we be making a demonstrable difference to the future of a child, we are also helping significantly reduce the costs of their future education and care which would otherwise fall on the state, the voluntary sector and on individual families.

Cerebral palsy shouldn’t hold us back, and every day we hear about the fantastic achievements that children and adults with cerebral palsy are accomplishing, from Lost Voice Guy winning Britain’s biggest talent show, to eight-year-old footballer Josh Bryers setting his sights on the England national team. Let’s make sure we play our part in helping every child in the country to gain consistent access to high-quality services, enabling them to achieve their full potential in their future later lives.  

Paul Maynard is a Government Whip (Lord Commissioner of HM Treasury) and the Conservative MP for Blackpool North and Cleveleys

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Read the most recent article written by Paul Maynard MP - Too often transport accessibility is an afterthought – we must listen to disabled voices