This podcast is part of a series that highlights adjustments that can be made in the classroom to enable students with disability to access and participate in education on the same basis as their peers.
In this episode, we talk about common adjustments teachers can make in the classroom to support students with cerebral palsy (CP). Cerebral palsy is a lifelong disability that affects movement and posture and is typically caused by damage to the brain before birth. The impact of CP will vary for every student and it can range from minimal to considerable levels of physical disability. Some students with cerebral palsy may experience involuntary motions or erratic movements. Others may have difficulty with balance and coordination and/or fine motor skills. Students may therefore require the use of specialised equipment such as a wheelchair or walking frame or assistance to walk. Students with cerebral palsy may present with an intellectual impairment, a communication disorder, vision and hearing impairment, sleep and behavioural disorders, and/or associated epilepsy.
Year 6 student Will discusses the impact of experiencing regular spasms and explains why physical education is particularly difficult for him. His mum Jordan talks about how CP impacts on his comprehension and explains the importance of giving him extra processing time. Teacher Janine Collins discusses why it’s important to seek student feedback to be able to put in the most effective adjustments and speech pathologist Rachael McGlynn explains that a good place to start with classroom adjustments is by assessing the physical environment and looking at what equipment the student may need.
Remember that cerebral palsy occurs on a spectrum and no two students are going to be alike. The disability may have both a physical and cognitive impact. Whatever the student’s limitations are, ensure that they have a voice in the classroom. It’s important to know what they are thinking and feeling so you can create an inclusive learning environment where the student feels heard and understood.
Start with environmental adjustments that consider such things as seating arrangements, accessibility for aids like wheelchairs, classroom acoustics, sloping boards and bathroom modifications. Environmental adjustments are most likely to be informed by specialist staff (i.e. physiotherapist, OT, visiting teachers, speech pathologists).
To help with comprehending and processing instructions, allow the student more time with transitions and tasks. Understand that students with CP are prone to anxiety and unrealistic time limits are likely to heighten it.
Regularly check in with the student with CP to help them achieve set goals. Once they’ve reached it, set a new one. Be mindful to always ask the student how they would like to approach an activity - don’t make assumptions.
To help students who struggle with handwriting, consider technological solutions such as an eye-gaze computer navigation system or speech-to-text, particularly if the focus of the lesson is not on handwriting.
A team of professionals with disability specific knowledge regarding CP and the functional impact of the disability will be invaluable in supporting the individual needs of each student.
What is the best way for me to find out how a student prefers to do tasks and activities?
If a student with CP is struggling with handwriting, how can I incorporate the use of technological tools in my classroom to help support them?
How can I help a student with CP with their comprehension of lessons?
What environmental adjustments could I make in my classroom to set up a student with CP for success?
What steps can I take to make a student with CP feel less anxious in the classroom?
How can I record the adjustments, the monitoring and review of these adjustments as part of the evidentiary requirements for the NCCD?