Growing up is a natural part of life. For those of us with special needs children, the thought of letting them become independent adults can be both frightening and relieving. If your child has cerebral palsy, you have already struggled through years of coping with physical, sensory, or cognitive disabilities. You may wonder if it is even possible for your son or daughter to drive a car. In most cases, with the help of special techniques or adaptive driving equipment, your child can compensate for any impairments and safely get behind the wheel.
Cerebral palsy (CP) is a non-progressive motor disorder usually caused by damage to the brain during pregnancy, childbirth, or early childhood development.
The most common part of the brain to be damaged is the cerebral cortex, which controls sensation, thought, and motor functions, among other things. When this area is damaged, the child can have weakness, muscle stiffness, involuntary muscle movements, and difficulty with controlling and coordinating movement. This form of CP is known as spastic CP
The second most common form of CP is ataxic CP, which is caused when the cerebellum is damaged. When this occurs, the person’s muscles become too flexible, which can lead to weakness and floppiness in the limbs. They may also suffer from balance and coordination problems.
Cerebral palsy is a life-long condition. Because it is rooted in damage to the brain, it is irreversible. However, there are things that can be done to improve general health, which will, in turn, help your child be in better shape for driving.
Operating a vehicle can be both physically and mentally taxing at times, so make sure they are getting enough sleep and eating a healthy diet. Exercise is also very beneficial. The right exercises and stretches can help improve their strength, control, and range of motion. Healthier muscles make it easier to minimize uncontrolled and jerky movements, which will help them maintain better control of their car. They don’t need to rush into these exercises too quickly, as this could cause injury. A gradual increase in the difficulty of their workouts will help them build their strength and stamina. Talk to their physician or physical therapist to determine which exercises are best for their unique symptoms.
Whenever possible, we try to meet with our patients in the comfort of their own homes to carry out an assessment of your abilities. All your child needs to do to prepare is to get a good night’s sleep and eat normal meals so they have the strength and energy to get through the visit, which can take up to two hours. They don’t need to worry about memorizing anything, this isn’t a test of their knowledge, it is an assessment of their motor skills and cognitive and visual abilities.
We start out by taking the time to get to know your child and their unique situation. Then we evaluate their visual, physical, and cognitive abilities. We check their visual acuity, peripheral vision, and ability to move their eyes about and scan their environment. We check physical flexibility, strength, and coordination. This includes both muscle coordination and hand-eye coordination. There will also be several exercises we do to evaluate memory, awareness, judgment, and the ability to follow directions. If this all goes well, we will recommend them for a behind-the-wheel evaluation at a later date where we will determine needed adaptive equipment and develop a driver training program that includes the adaptive equipment.