Importance: Cerebral palsy (CP) is the most common childhood physical disability. Early intervention for children younger than 2 years with or at risk of CP is critical. Now that an evidence-based guideline for early accurate diagnosis of CP exists, there is a need to summarize effective, CP-specific early intervention and conduct new trials that harness plasticity to improve function and increase participation. Our recommendations apply primarily to children at high risk of CP or with a diagnosis of CP, aged 0 to 2 years.
Objective: To systematically review the best available evidence about CP-specific early interventions across 9 domains promoting motor function, cognitive skills, communication, eating and drinking, vision, sleep, managing muscle tone, musculoskeletal health, and parental support.
Evidence review: The literature was systematically searched for the best available evidence for intervention for children aged 0 to 2 years at high risk of or with CP. Databases included CINAHL, Cochrane, Embase, MEDLINE, PsycInfo, and Scopus. Systematic reviews and randomized clinical trials (RCTs) were appraised by A Measurement Tool to Assess Systematic Reviews (AMSTAR) or Cochrane Risk of Bias tools. Recommendations were formed using the Grading of Recommendations Assessment, Development, and Evaluation (GRADE) framework and reported according to the Appraisal of Guidelines, Research, and Evaluation (AGREE) II instrument.
Findings: Sixteen systematic reviews and 27 RCTs met inclusion criteria. Quality varied. Three best-practice principles were supported for the 9 domains: (1) immediate referral for intervention after a diagnosis of high risk of CP, (2) building parental capacity for attachment, and (3) parental goal-setting at the commencement of intervention. Twenty-eight recommendations (24 for and 4 against) specific to the 9 domains are supported with key evidence: motor function (4 recommendations), cognitive skills (2), communication (7), eating and drinking (2), vision (4), sleep (7), tone (1), musculoskeletal health (2), and parent support (5).
Conclusions and relevance: When a child meets the criteria of high risk of CP, intervention should start as soon as possible. Parents want an early diagnosis and treatment and support implementation as soon as possible. Early intervention builds on a critical developmental time for plasticity of developing systems. Referrals for intervention across the 9 domains should be specific as per recommendations in this guideline.