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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. It's important to understand 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. Therapy can also 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 movement through special exercises. A PT can help your child learn different ways to move. The PT can also show your child 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. Sometimes it is done through an intensive inpatient program. 

Occupational therapy

After treatment for a brain tumor, your child may have difficulty doing 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, offer special devices, or teach your child a new way to do a task. In some cases, the OT may recommend putting special equipment in your home to help with safety and mobility. These devices might include rails or grab bars in the bathroom. Insurance may cover the cost of this equipment. But check your policy and talk with the OT before buying anything.

Pediatric psychology or neuropsychology

It's completely normal for a child to be scared or sad about the brain tumor. You should make it clear that the illness was no one's fault. During this time, your child also may be helped by a pediatric psychologist or neuropsychologist.  Because brain tumors and their treatment can cause short- or long-term problems with behavior and learning, these experts will do an evaluation. They will come up with a program to help your child move forward. They also help children deal with the emotional aftershock of their illness. They also can serve as an advocate for your child at school so that he or she get the attention needed.

Retraining of thinking skills

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 thinking skills. They can improve their ability to solve problems and reason. Be sure to choose workbooks that are appropriate for your child's age. 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 starting them.

Speech-language pathology services

Communicating may be difficult for children recovering from a brain tumor. This is especially true if the tumor was in a part of the brain that controls speech and language. A speech-language pathologist (SLP) can evaluate your child. The SLP can help treat any communication difficulties with speaking exercises, listening activities, or other techniques. An SLP can also help with swallowing problems.

Talk with your child's doctor if you think your child could be helped by working with an SLP 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 rehab process. It may also be helpful to consider family counseling or support groups that include siblings. The rehabilitation process focuses on the child recovering from the brain tumor. But it also needs to help the entire family system recover from the event. 

Online Medical Reviewer: Alteri, Richard, MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Cunningham, Louise, RN
Last Review Date: 7/14/2015
© 2013 The StayWell Company, LLC. 800 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.