Helping Jude Talk

August 5, 2009 9:25:36 AM PDT
Cerebral palsy is a group of incurable neurological disorders that emerge in infancy or early childhood. The term translates to "brain paralysis," as it is caused by abnormal development or damage in areas of the brain that control muscles.The condition affects body movement and muscle coordination. Some of the most common early signs of cerebral palsy are lack of muscle coordination when moving, stiff or tight muscles, exaggerated reflexes, walking on the toes, and walking with one foot or leg dragging. It doesn't always present itself in the same way: while one child may not be able to walk and may need lifelong assistance, another might be affected only mildly and require no help.

The goal of cerebral palsy treatment is to help patients live as near normal of a life as possible. The earlier treatment starts, the better chance a child has of overcoming their disabilities. Some treatment options include physical and occupational therapy; speech therapy; drugs for seizures, muscle spasms and pain; and surgery to fix physical abnormalities or tight muscles, among others.

FINDING A VOICE: While many of those with cerebral palsy have normal intelligence levels, they might have difficulties communicating. Such is the case with 8-year-old Jude. "About the time he was around two years old we started to notice that his language wasn't developing in sort of a typical way," Jeremy Countryman, Jude's father, told Ivanhoe. "We're fortunate because he's mostly neurologically intact, and a very bright kid. He is capable of getting A's in a regular classroom at school, unlike many children who have these birth types of injuries." Although his speech has been affected, his parents understand his unique 'language.' "If you had a relative or someone who had a really thick, foreign accent, other people wouldn't be able to understand them, but because you're used to listening to them talk, you immediately pick up on what they're saying, so Jeremy and I understand 95 percent of what he's saying," Erin Belieu, Jude's mom, explained.

STIMULATING THE MUSCLES: Last June, Jude began VitalStim Therapy, originally designed to help stroke survivors regain swallowing function. It is a noninvasive treatment that uses neuromuscular electrical stimulation (NMES) to retrain muscles. "It sends a carefully calibrated electrical current," Polly Bohannon, MS, CCC-SLP, a speech language pathologist at Tallahassee Memorial Healthcare in Tallahassee, Fla., explained to Ivanhoe. "It's not painful. We use it along the throat and along the face to help stimulate the nerves and innervate the muscles that are associated with swallowing," Bohannon uses the VitalStim on Jude three times a week for up to an hour. So far, the therapy appears to be helping Jude. "It seemed to me like it did improve his muscle tone in those areas a lot and it did improve his speech somewhat and his ability to articulate," Jeremy said.

FOR MORE INFORMATION, PLEASE CONTACT:

Tallahassee Memorial Pediatric Outpatient Rehabilitation Center
(850) 431-6220


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