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In order to provide the most enriching education, teachers should always endeavor to meet their student’s need. When teaching students with cerebral palsy, educators should consider making a variety of adjustments to the classroom so that all students can get the most out of their school experience.

Students with cerebral palsy

Of course, not all students with additional needs require the same type of support and students should always be viewed as individuals. Whilst more than one student in a class may have cerebral palsy, this doesn’t necessarily mean that they will require the same adaptations. If teachers are willing to examine a variety of options, however, the appropriate learning techniques and classroom adaptations can be put in place.

Understanding cerebral palsy

Usually caused by brain malformation or damage, cerebral palsy most commonly occurs during fetal development or at birth. Defined as a neuromuscular disability, there isn’t currently a cure for cerebral palsy but there are a variety of treatments and therapies which can help individuals to reduce their symptoms where possible.

Cerebral palsy can cause issues with balance, mobility, movement, coordination and posture but symptoms do vary and may not always affect learning. Whilst some students with cerebral palsy may be unable to move without assistance, others may walk without significant impairment.

By understanding the condition and how it can vary from one individual to another, teachers will be best placed to make classroom modifications and ensure students with cerebral palsy have a fulfilling experience at school.

Identifying what students need

Students with cerebral palsy may be affected in different ways and their symptoms will have an impact on what level of support they need in school.

For example, students with cerebral palsy may exhibit a number of different symptoms, such as:

  • Hearing problems
  • Seizures
  • Visual impairments
  • Learning disabilities
  • Mobility issues
  • Speech problems
  • Bladder or bowel incontinence
  • Uncontrolled movements
  • Behavioral issues

As every student is different, teachers should work as closely as possible with the pupil, their parents or guardians and their medical team in order to identify any additional needs which must be met. By learning how to identify a student’s needs, teachers will find it easier to incorporate appropriate teaching strategies.

If a student with cerebral palsy is experiencing vision and mobility problems but doesn’t exhibit any speech or hearing issues, for example, they may require help getting around the school and they may also need oral instructions, as opposed to visual explanations. For students who don’t have vision impairments but who have problems controlling their bladder or bowel, regular toilet breaks and practical support may be required but alternative learning material may not be required.

It is evident, therefore, that adapting a school environment to meet the needs of students with cerebral palsy is not a one-size-fits-all situation. Each student should be viewed as an individual and their specific needs should be addressed, rather than assessing cerebral palsy based on medical definition alone.

Incorporating assistive technology in schools

Assistive technology can be a fantastic addition to any classroom and it can be particularly beneficial for students with cerebral palsy. Due to the wide range of assistive technologies available, various types of hardware and software can be used to assist students with differing needs. Students with cerebral palsy who have vision problems may benefit from large, electronic prints, for example, whereas students who have hearing issues as a result of cerebral palsy may prefer to have assignments and homework emailed to them so that they can see the instructions, rather than struggling to hear them in class.

Of course, assistive technology doesn’t just help students access learning materials. Newer forms of technology can also help with communication and mobility. Speech boxes may enable non-verbal students to communicate with teachers, friends and peers, for example, whilst an electric wheelchair may enable students who struggle with mobility to move around the school more easily.

Maintaining an inclusive environment

Classrooms should always integrate students and this applies to pupils with cerebral palsy as much as anyone else. Any child with additional needs can feel isolated at one time or another so teachers should always be on the lookout for students who require help when it comes to integrating with other students.

Unfortunately, bullying does occur in schools and any perceived differences can be a trigger for bullies. As a result, students with cerebral palsy may be more at risk of being bullied or victimized at school. Teachers should be aware of this risk and take a tough stance at the first sign of any bullying behavior. As with all forms of prejudice, educating students about alternative and additional needs can help to combat ignorance, fear and bullying.

When it comes to taking part in class, students with cerebral palsy may lack confidence or feel nervous about taking part. Whilst it’s important not to make students feel uncomfortable, calling on students from time-to-time and encouraging every student to take part in group activities can help to build confidence and ensure full participation in learning.

In addition to this, teachers should ensure that students with cerebral palsy are encouraged to take on a full role within the classroom. Students with cerebral palsy should be considered for leadership positions alongside other members of the class. Choosing roles and allocating them to students can be a valuable way of including everyone in the classroom and alternating the roles ensures students get to practice different types of skills.

These roles may include:

  • Classroom Monitor
  • Greeter
  • Line Leader
  • Paper Handler
  • Library Leader

Provide inclusive playgrounds

Catering for students with additional needs includes providing physical, emotional and mental support in the classroom but it’s not just in the classroom that adaptations need to be made. Whilst students with cerebral palsy should have learning materials modified to suit their needs, they should also be included in recreational, sporting and leisure activities.

Whether this is ensuring a supportive environment is in place in the playground, planning activities for all students to take part in or arranging suitable off-campus trips, making sure all students can take part in school life is vital.

By identifying the needs of students with cerebral palsy and working with them to create a suitable school environment and related services, teachers can ensure that all students have access to the best education and a supportive and fulfilling environment. With a variety of adaptable teaching methods, education support strategies and lesson plans, teachers and educators in all schools can work together to ensure students with cerebral palsy and other additional needs are valued and productive members of the class.