Dressing is a challenge for the child with cerebral palsy. Different parts of the body move awkwardly and often there is little to no balance making coordination next to impossible.
Our physical therapist was a great guide. She showed me different strategies to help Michael. It is much easier and quicker to dress a child with cp, but if you want to teach them independence, you must teach them how to dress themselves. There are children with severe cp that may not be able to accomplish this feat, but it is important that you discuss expectations with your physical therapist.
Starting around the age of 2 ½ or 3, Michael started to learn how to dress himself. The average length of time it took him? About one hour. He would get extremely frustrated and there would be tantrums. Michael is spastic diplegic. His lower limbs are very affected, with minor upper body adjustments. To teach him to put his pants on, he needed to side sit (lean toward one hip), place both feet into the pant legs all the way until his feet came out the other end. We then instructed him to do the “bridge” something he learned in therapy, pushing his bottom up in the air, and holding onto the top of his pants, pull them up to his waist. We tried to buy pants that were elastic around the waist so there was no buttons or snaps. We loved sweatpants.
The shirt is next. Once again, focus on clothing with no buttons or snaps; it was many years later before we conquered these. The hardest part was keeping his balance. Michael would usually W sit – not a good posture for these children, but not uncommon. We taught him to put his head through the shirt first, but he would insist on putting his arms through first resulting in a crying frenzy because his arms were stuck in an upward position and he could not move. Children whose upper body is moderately to severely involved, will find the shirt to be more difficult. Consult your therapist for the best technique.
Last, but not least, shoes and socks. Michael was extremely tight in his legs, so reaching his feet was difficult, if not at times impossible. We found placing Michael on a step stool to work best. He could be in a sitting position and reach his feet better from this angle. If we could get him to pull a leg up and place it across the other leg, it worked best. Of course a three year old has their own ideas, and most of the times he tried to bend and reach his feet, or try to put his socks and shoes on from the floor (see his frustration at the top of the page). It was a few years and our first major surgery before we accomplished this task and it became functional.
Does it sound difficult? It is. Today Michael gets dressed as fast as anyone else in the family, and the years of work really paid off.