A recent study indicates that an intense form of therapy developed for adult stroke victims may assist children with certain kinds of cerebral palsy in using their neglected arms. Constraint-induced movement therapy is utilized typically for adult stroke victims and is centered around the idea of learning to use a bad limb while a good limb is restrained. The therapy is designed to assist adults in overcoming “learned helplessness.”

In children, since normal limb movements never develop, they are not inclined to regain movement that was never lost. Edward Taub, PhD, psychology professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham led the study and calls this, “developmental disregard.”

The study reportedly encompassed 18 children who suffered perinatal strokes. The youngest patient was aged 7 months and the oldest aged 8 years. Two groups were formed, one group of half the children received conventional cerebral palsy therapy while the other half received constraint-induced therapy. 

The children in the second group were fitted with fiberglass casts and worked with a therapist on shaping movement for their bad arms. Taub says the therapy involved a great deal of play in which the children picked up puzzle pieces, popped soap bubbles with their fingers, and pounded balls into holes with a plastic hammer. Each new movement was met with lots of praise from the therapist. Taub says the therapists were able to “shape” the skill by asking the children for more precision, fluidity of motion or the ability to respond automatically.

The study’s findings report that the children receiving this intense therapy learned an average of nine new motor patterns, compared to two new motor patterns learned by the children in the control group. 

Taub credits the intensity of training and internal rewards associated with shaping as the major factors in making the therapy work for children. “But how children make such improvements in just 3 weeks is still a mystery,” Taub says.

The study was published in Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics. 

Source(s): New York Times, University of Alabama at Birmingham