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Rehabilitation for Children with Brain Tumors

Welcoming home a child after treatment for a brain tumor can be a joyous event, but it's not the end of the treatment journey. Understanding what lies ahead for your child and the rest of your family may ease some worries and get everyone on board for the next step in the recovery process.

therapist working with a child

After brain tumor treatment, it's normal for a child to have after-effects. For instance, your child may have trouble talking, walking normally, or swallowing. Rehabilitation therapy can lessen these problems and help your child turn to normal activities, such as attending school. Children's brains are able to form new connections. As a result, children can often recover neurological functions that were affected by a brain tumor. 

Options for rehab

Here are some types of therapy your child may need to continue healing:

  • Physical therapy. If your child is having difficulty moving around as a result of a tumor or tumor treatment, a physical therapist (PT) can help improve both strength and mobility through special exercises. A PT can help your child learn different ways to move, as well as how to use any special equipment needed to carry out these functions. For example, some children may need to use a leg brace to help them walk again. Physical therapy can be done on an outpatient basis or sometimes through an intensive inpatient program. 

  • Occupational therapy. After treatment for a brain tumor, your child may have difficulty performing everyday tasks like showering and eating. An occupational therapist (OT) will show your child how to regain these skills and as much independence as possible. An OT may use specific exercises, introduce special assistive devices, or teach your child a new way to perform a task. In some cases, the OT may recommend installing special equipment in your home to improve safety and mobility, such as rails or grab bars in the bathroom. Insurance may cover the cost of this equipment, so check your policy and talk with the occupational therapist before buying anything.

  • Pediatric psychology or neuropsychology. In addition to your reassuring your child that it's completely normal to be scared or sad about the brain tumor and that the illness was no one's fault, your child also may benefit from the help of a pediatric psychologist or neuropsychologist during this difficult time.  Because brain tumors and their treatment can cause short- or long-term problems with behavior and learning, these experts will do an evaluation and devise a program to help your child move forward. They also help children deal with the emotional aftershock of their illness. Finally, they can serve as an advocate for your child at school so that he or she receives the appropriate accommodations.

  • Cognitive retraining. Attention and memory can be affected by a brain tumor. By completing simple exercises found in workbooks, puzzles, and games, children can start to regain these cognitive skills and improve their ability to solve problems and reason. Be sure to choose workbooks that are appropriate for your child's age, and make sure the exercises aren't too hard (or too easy). These workbooks can be found at most retail stores and at teacher-supply outlets. Be sure to discuss the exercises with your child's doctor before beginning them.

  • Speech-language pathology services. Communicating may be difficult for children recovering from a brain tumor, especially if the tumor was in a portion of the brain that controls speech and language. A speech-language pathologist can evaluate your child and help treat any communication difficulties with speaking exercises, listening activities, or other techniques. A speech-language pathologist can also help with swallowing problems.

Talk with your child's doctor if you think your child could benefit from working with a speech-language pathologist or any other specialist not yet on the rehab team. You and your child may also benefit from joining a support group for families of brain tumor patients and sharing experiences. 

Finally, remember that this experience has affected your entire family. Try to make special time for siblings and involve them as much as possible in the rehabilitation process. It may also be helpful to consider family counseling or support groups that include siblings. The rehabilitation process, while focused on the child recovering from the brain tumor, needs to help the entire family system recover from the event. 

Online Medical Reviewer: MMI board-certified, academically affiliated clinician
Online Medical Reviewer: Welch, Annette, MNS OCN
Last Review Date: 9/27/2013
© 2013 Krames StayWell, 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare provider's instructions.