How does facial palsy affect young children?
A child with facial palsy will be mostly unaware of their differences until they start school, so much of the care of a baby or very young child with facial palsy revolves around functional rather than psychological issues.
Some of the functional issues associated with facial palsy in a young child may include:
- Problems with eye closure
- Speech difficulties
- Feeding and drinking difficulties
- Hearing problems
- Inability to show facial expression
There may also be other difficulties, it very much depends on the type of facial palsy and whether it is associated with a particular syndrome or condition.
Where the eyes are affected, specialist advice should be sought with regards to eye care. Babies may benefit from soft mittens to prevent them scratching the affected eye(s), or an eye patch can be useful in young children if there is repeated eye inflammation. Special care should be taken with children lacking sensitivity of the cornea, as damage to the eye may occur without symptoms.
Activities such as swimming or playing with sand may require parents to take extra precautions if an eye does not close properly, and it is a good idea to invest in sunglasses if your child is unable to squint. Hair should also be washed with care, ensuring shampoo does not get near to the affected eye or eyes. Eating and drinking can sometimes be difficult depending on the degree of facial paralysis, if this is the case then seek expert advice from relevant health professionals.
Always ensure you attend regular child development reviews to check for possible problems, particularly with speech, hearing and vision.
How can you support a younger child with facial paralysis?
It’s difficult to imagine how a person with facial palsy really feels, but it’s important to be empathetic. To show empathy for someone means to try to put oneself in the other person’s shoes and understand their situation. This is different to showing sympathy for a person. A child with facial palsy wants someone to understand their emotional and physical issues, but they don’t necessarily want people to feel sorry for them, because this can make them feel inferior. From an early age, a child with facial palsy will pick up on how other people treat them. It is very important to build the child’s confidence and this will be achieved by being caring and understanding, but also by being careful not to make the child feel pitied.
Other ways you can support a child with facial palsy include:
- Learn about the physical issues associated with facial palsy and ensure your child is receiving adequate care to manage these issues.
- Explore all of the available treatments and therapies available for your child; it may be important for your child to have physiotherapy to keep muscles working.
- Network with other parents of children with facial paralysis to reduce feelings of isolation you or your child may experience.
- Keep a diary of how the facial palsy happened, noting down specialists you have seen and decisions that have been taken. People forget as time passes and children with facial palsy often want to know these details when they are old enough to think about it.
- Speak to their school about how facial palsy affects your child and ensure they are sensitive to your child’s differences without highlighting them. Keep communicating with the school and ensure you always speak to new teachers that come into contact with your child. If you feel it is necessary, you can ask to speak to your child’s class in order to demystify why your child looks a little different: children are often far more accepting when they understand something better. Download our Starting School form to use for sharing information with primary school.
- Volunteering to help at school or with extracurricular activities will give you stronger ties with the community. You can answer questions about your child or be on hand if they need extra support, if you think they need it.
- Invite other children to play and widen your child’s social circle, help them to build friendships from an early age. Children are less likely to make fun of a child they know well.
- Speak to the school photographer before school photograph days to ensure they are aware if your child cannot smile or smiles differently. They may mistakenly assume a child with facial palsy is smiling differently on purpose and reproach them for it.
- Guide them as to how to approach questions about their face from their peers and be aware that they may be more vulnerable to bullies. Often peers will be impressed by the things a child with facial palsy can do rather than what they can’t do, for example, some children can raise one eyebrow at a time, sneeze with one or both eyes open or flare one nostril.
- Our children’s book ‘When Teddy Lost His Smile‘ is a great way to start a conversation about facial palsy and support your child.
Primary school experience: ‘My parents didn’t really tell me about my facial palsy as a child, and so I was not aware I was any different to any other child. I’m not sure if this was helpful or not. It was helpful in that I didn’t feel any different, and so I suppose I didn’t act any differently and was just a confident happy child. However on the downside, when I started school I had some children asking me, “What’s wrong with your eye?” and obviously I didn’t know how to answer because I didn’t know there was anything wrong with my eye really! So I went home and asked my parents about it, and I don’t remember exactly, but they told me I got stuck when I was being born, and it meant I wasn’t able to close my eye properly. That was about all they told me, and so I relayed that info on to the other kids. That was the end of their intrigue!’
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Private Facebook support group for parents and carers of children with facial palsy, operated by Facial Palsy UK.
Last reviewed: 25-10-2015 || Next review due: 25-10-2017