Cerebral palsy (CP) is a disorder that affects muscle tone, movement, and motor skills (the ability to move in a coordinated and purposeful way). CP is usually caused by brain damage that occurs before or during a child's birth, or during the first 3 to 5 years of a child's life.
The brain damage that leads to cerebral palsy can also lead to other health issues, including vision, hearing, and speech problems, and learning disabilities.
There is no cure for CP, but treatment, therapy, special equipment, and, in some cases, surgery can help a child who is living with the condition.
About Cerebral Palsy
Cerebral palsy is one of the most common congenital (existing before birth or at birth) disorders of childhood. About 500,000 children and adults of all ages in the United States have the condition.
The three types of CP are:
- spastic cerebral palsy — causes stiffness and movement difficulties
- athetoid cerebral palsy — leads to involuntary and uncontrolled movements
- ataxic cerebral palsy — causes a disturbed sense of balance and depth perception
Cerebral palsy affects muscle control and coordination, so even simple movements — like standing still — are difficult. Other vital functions that also involve motor skills and muscles — such as breathing, bladder and bowel control, eating, and learning — may also be affected when a child has CP. Cerebral palsy does not get worse over time.
Causes of Cerebral Palsy
The exact causes of most cases of CP are unknown, but many are the result of problems during pregnancy in which the brain is either damaged or doesn't develop normally. This can be due to infections, maternal health problems, a genetic disorder, or something else that interferes with normal brain development. Problems during labor and delivery can cause CP in some cases. but this is the exception.
Premature babies — particularly those who weigh less than 3.3 pounds (1,510 grams) — have a higher risk of CP than babies that are carried full-term, as are other low birth weight babies and multiple births, such as twins and triplets.
Brain damage in infancy or early childhood can also lead to CP. A baby or toddler might suffer this damage because of lead poisoning, bacterial meningitis, malnutrition, being shaken as an infant (shake baby syndrome), or being in a car accident while not properly restrained.
Signs and symptoms of cerebral palsy will vary from one individual to the next. The primary effect of cerebral palsy is impairment of muscle tone, gross and fine motor functions, balance, control, coordination, reflexes, and posture. Oral motor dysfunction, such as swallowing and feeding difficulties, speech impairment, and poor facial muscle tone can also indicate cerebral palsy. Many signs and symptoms are not visible at birth, except in some severe cases, and may appear within the first 3 to 5 years of life as the brain and child develop. However, caution needs to be taken against making a diagnosis too early, and warn that other conditions be ruled out first. Because cerebral palsy is the result of brain injury, and the brain continues to develop during the first years of life, early tests may not detect the condition. Later, however, the same test may reveal the issue.
The following are the 8 clinical signs of cerebral palsy:
- Impairment of muscle tone
- Poor movement coordination and control
- Reflexes that do not fade away as the child grows
- Affected posture
- Affected balance
- Delayed gross motor function
- Impaired/delayed fine motor skills
- Difficulty with oral motor function
Treatments and Therapies:
There is no one approach towards treating cerebral palsy, as it is a complex condition. Although the brain injury that has caused cerebral palsy cannot be healed, the resulting physical impairment can be managed with various treatments and therapies. One’s form of cerebral palsy, severity level and extent of impairment will determine the level of care required.
Therapy and adaptive equipment are the main treatments used for cerebral palsy; however, an individual may also need drug therapy, as well as surgical interventions.
The Ontario Federation of Cerebral Palsy:
The Cerebral Palsy Support Foundation of Canada: