By Amy Wolff
Photos Courtesy of UPC
United Cerebral Palsy (UCP) of Central Arizona recently received a grant of $30,000 from the BHHS Legacy Foundation to expand UCP’s Baby Clinic services at the Laura Dozer Center in North Phoenix. The funds will provide early diagnosis support for local families dealing with cerebral palsy and other neurodevelopmental disorders.
“We are very grateful for this grant and the ability to serve even more babies who are experiencing motor delays and may be at risk for cerebral palsy or other neuromotor disorders,” says Valerie Pieraccini, Director of Therapy Programs and the Early Learning Center at UCP of Central Arizona. “Early detection of signs that indicate an infant is at risk for cerebral palsy can lead to either early diagnosis or increased surveillance of developmental milestones.”
“If a child has cerebral palsy, early diagnosis can lead to specialized early treatment, taking advantage of developmental neuroplasticity to shape the way a baby’s brain is organizing itself through pruning and adding of neural connections,” Pieraccini adds.
Following international guidelines, cerebral palsy can be diagnosed in babies as early as three months old based on observed quality of movement and feeding irregularities for the infant. But most children in the U.S. are not diagnosed until they are two or three years old, which means lost time for early intervention and treatment.
UCP of Central Arizona’s Baby Clinic provides access to targeted services for babies up to 18 months who are at risk for cerebral palsy and other neurodevelopmental disorders. The state-of-the-art facility provides early detection services based on risk factors, outcomes of specific evaluations, surveillance of motor development, a consult with a neurologist or other specialist, and parental concerns. After diagnosis, the clinic offers targeted early treatment and services that are often lacking for babies with neurodevelopmental disabilities.
Cerebral palsy is the most common motor disorder in childhood, yet it is often overlooked. New research shows that targeted therapeutic and biomedical treatment can change the trajectory for a child with cerebral palsy. However, the effectiveness of these treatments is dependent on early detection, diagnosis and intervention. “Parents are their child’s best advocate and, because of day-in and day-out interactions, they are better able to understand when something is amiss,” Pieraccini explains. “My best advice to parents is to trust your gut. There is a critical window of opportunity with developmental neuroplasticity prior to three years old so it’s an important time for parents to seek help from a professional who specializes in neurological disorders.”
Pieraccini suggests concerned parents should watch their child carefully, write down what they observe, and take that list to their pediatrician. Even searching for a few short videos online can illustrate missed milestones and developmental discrepancies.
With support from the BHHS Legacy Foundation, UCP’s Baby Clinic will expand healthcare access by roughly 20-30% in the years ahead to serve additional babies and children at risk for cerebral palsy and other neurodevelopmental disorders. UCP of Central Arizona is located at 1802 W. Parkside Lane. For more information, visit ucpofcentralaz.org.