Cerebral palsy and your child’s communication needs: how BBK will approach your claim

November 12, 2015
Jo Chapman - Partner in the Brain Injury Team

Posted by: Jo Chapman


If your child is affected by cerebral palsy (CP), do they have difficulty communicating? Did you know that modern technology can help your child communicate more effectively, whatever their needs, age and circumstances?

Communication aids include a huge range of options using the latest computer technology, known as Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC). With the high-tech aids that suit their particular needs, your child will be able to have a conversation, develop relationships, gain a social life and live more independently. AAC will also enable them to access learning and have more say in and control over their environment – in fact, to live a full life as a human being.

Communication Matters (http://www.communicationmatters.org.uk/) has produced a film that gives you an introduction to AAC for people with complex communication needs. Watch it here:

What issues face people with complex communication needs?

Cerebral palsy affects everyone differently and so there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to communication technology. Your child may have:

  • physical or motor problems
  • impaired speech
  • language delay (perhaps they had limited access to learning in their early years)
  • special educational needs
  • hearing and vision problems
  • emotional and behavioural problems
  • feeding problems
  • growth problems

That’s why it’s important to seek expert legal advice when it comes to making a claim for funding the technology your child needs. We understand the difficulties in getting the communication ‘package’ exactly right, and we’ll work with you to find the perfect AAC solution for your child, taking into account the other challenges they are facing.

What we offer at BBK

At BBK we have specialist experience in making successful claims for AAC technology. When preparing a claim, we look at three main areas:

  1. The need for a team approach
  2. The need for a balanced approach
  3. The need to plan ahead for adulthood

What do we mean by a team approach?

We mean that we involve different professionals working together as a team. We consult:

  • occupational and physical therapists, orthotic specialists and rehabilitation engineers, who understand the options available and how to match your child to the right technology
  • ophthalmologists and hearing loss professionals, who will assess how visual and hearing problems might affect your child’s use of communication symbols
  • psychologists, who will assess your child’s mental and emotional capabilities
  • speech and language therapists and educators, who will find out what training and support your child will need
  • disability and technology experts and specialists, who will assess your child’s immediate and longer-term technology needs and advise on suitable systems – including, for example, the right wheelchair and stable seating for attaching communication aids and switches.

And, of course, central to the team are:

  • your child with all their complex communication needs
  • your child’s family and friends
  • teachers and others responsible for your child’s welfare
  • personal care assistants and others who are there to help your child

What do we mean by a balanced approach?

We mean that we balance your child’s need for communication technology with their other needs, such as those for:

  • speech therapy, learning motor skills and general education. Your child may need training in the physical use of alternative access methods such as an eye tracker, a head mouse, or a switch for scanning.
  • learning other communication strategies. Your child may need help to grasp concepts such as cause and effect, taking turns, and how to make requests and choices, and later on they’ll need more complex strategies for making conversation, establishing rapport, developing relationships and understanding social conventions.

What do we mean by planning for adulthood?

We mean that we pay attention to your child’s future needs – into adulthood and over their lifetime. We plan for this and take even the most distant goals into account, which may include post-secondary education and employment, volunteering, leisure and recreational activities.

As your child grows up and moves from home to preschool, to school, to post-secondary education, to employment or volunteering and to supported or independent living, the support they need will change, and your child will also need to learn new skills to be able to communicate in these different settings.

These skills might include the ability to:

  • interact with teachers and fellow pupils
  • complete homework
  • request alternative assignments
  • direct personal care assistants
  • conduct research
  • use email and social media
  • participate in extracurricular activities

In work or as a volunteer, your child will need to be able to multitask and produce spontaneous and rapid messages, among other skills. Without long-term planning, a child with complex communication needs may have difficulty learning these skills as an adult.

Understanding the risks and challenges

When we bring a claim for funding the technology your child needs, we are aware that those defending the claim might argue that, regardless of the need, you would have incurred these costs in any case. Digital and mobile technologies are everywhere in all our daily lives and considered affordable necessities. Even what was once specialist software, like touchscreen display, has entered the mainstream, to everyone’s advantage.

The defendant might also argue that your child:

  • would be unlikely to benefit from AAC technology
  • would be physically unable to use the technology
  • would find the technology unsuitable or inappropriate

In 2007, a claimant accepted an expert’s recommendation for an off-the-shelf communication package. A year later, the claimant instructed another expert to recommend a unique technology package tailored to his particular needs. This package would have added another £600,000 to the claim but the court refused to allow it, partly because it felt the claimant wouldn’t be able to benefit from many of the items recommended.

An experienced legal team will anticipate and counter these arguments. At BBK we will do this by:

  • instructing our own experts – and we won’t rely on a single expert
  • making sure your child gets the equipment on loan to try out before the hearing
  • getting a split trial and an interim payment to fund the package
  • getting witness statements from those close to your child, or from your child directly
  • considering video evidence to support the claim

We will bear in mind that technology is becoming increasingly customizable, through, for example, 3D printing and open-source programming and that the fast pace of change brings with it built-in obsolescence. We will build into the claim the costs of designing and building unique, bespoke hardware and software technology packages tailored to the changing needs of your child, as well as, of course, maintenance, updating, and replacement costs, and – probably the biggest element of all – ongoing training and support.

Contact us

I am a Partner at Bolt Burdon Kemp specialising in child brain injury claims. If you or a loved one are concerned that you may have an undiagnosed brain injury or you are concerned about treatment you have received, contact me free of charge and in confidence on 020 7288 4825 or at jochapman@boltburdonkemp.co.uk for specialist legal advice. Alternatively, you can complete this form and one of the solicitors in the Medical Negligence team will contact you.

Posted by: Jo Chapman

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