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What is Cerebral Palsy

Updated on April 5, 2014

What is Cerebral Palsy?

Cerebral palsy is a broad term for various types of motor dysfunctions, which are nonprogressive in nature and which are present since birth or early childhood. These motor dysfunctions impair movement of the individuals affected with cerebral palsy and occurs because of imperfect development of and/or damage to the brain, in particular areas that control motor (or movement) skills. Cerebral palsy afflicts every 2 of approximately 1000 children born. The exact term cerebral palsy translates into (cerebral = involving the brain + palsy = paralysis or weakness). A child afflicted with cerebral palsy therefore has trouble in controlling/coordinating his/her muscles because of weakness.

Types of Cerebral Palsy: The Three Types of Cerebral Palsy


There are 3 types of cerebral palsy, which are:

Spastic Cerebral Palsy: This is the most common type of cerebral palsy and children afflicted with this type have muscles that are stiff and can't be relaxed. This stiffness limits movement and kids with this type of cerebral palsy may find it difficult to change positions/hold and let go of objects.

Athetoid Cerebral Palsy: This type affects the ability of the child affected to coordinate/control his/her muscles. Those afflicted with this type of cerebral palsy may demonstrate involuntary, random movements of the extremities/face, etc.

Ataxic Cerebral Palsy: This type is characterized by low muscle tone. Children affected with this type of cerebral palsy usually demonstrate excessive shakiness (tremors) and have problems with balance. Tasks such as writing may seem impossible because of the inability of the afflicted child to hold items such as pens.


Causes of Cerebral Palsy: Why do They Happen?

Many people don't know this, but cerebral palsy can develop either before birth, during birth or after birth. So, in that sense, it may be either congenital or an acquired condition. Some causes can include:

  • Inadequate brain development of the fetus during pregnancy, possibly as a result of deficiency of oxygen or other vital nutrients.
  • Lack of oxygen during or after birth.
  • Incompatible blood groups (Rh incompatibility) of mother and child.
  • Rubella (German measles) positive status of the mother during pregnancy.
  • Genetic abnormalities.
  • Head injury to the child or any brain infections contracted.
  • Child has seizures, meningitis/encephalitis and other such medical conditions.


Symptoms of Cerebral Palsy:


  • Children with cerebral palsy can exhibit a wide variety of symptoms. Some of them may include:
  • Dysphagia (difficulty in swallowing).
  • Drooling.
  • Involuntary body movements.
  • Spastic (tight) muscles.
  • Problems with speech.
  • Having difficulty walking/standing.
  • Difficulty sitting up or turning over.
  • Difficulty in writing or holding small objects.
  • Balance problems and weakness of muscles.

How Doctors Diagnose Cerebral Palsy:


The usual strategy is to see how the child develops. By the age of 18 months, a diagnosis can generally be made based on observable symptoms described above. Some tests may be ordered like x-rays, blood tests, scans like CT and MRI scans or studies like electroencephalograms (EEG).

Treatment Options for Cerebral Palsy - The Options Available:


Unfortunately, there is no cure for cerebral palsy. The brain damage that is responsible for cerebral palsy cannot be reversed or undone. What can be done though is to optimize the child's skills so they can achieve a level of independence required to survive on their own. Treatment can consist of a mix of various options. Some of them may include:

Use of Medications: Spasticity-reducing medications may be utilized.

Braces and Splints: To keep the arms and legs affected in correct alignment and to avoid development of deformities in them, splints and braces may be used. Other devices such as walkers, wheelchairs can be provided to help with movement. To improve posture, devices that focus on posture may be used.

Rehabilitation Option: Therapies such as physical and occupational therapy, as well as speech therapy may be utilized to help improve upon the speech skills and motor skills. Therapies may be focused on muscle strengthening, improving mobility, balance, etc.

Physical Therapy: This kind of therapy focuses on improving the development of muscles and prevent deterioration that can result from lack of use of those muscles. Specific exercises may be designed to help keep these muscles active. A physical therapist will focus on improving the child's movement and balance and avoiding the muscles becoming rigid and fixed.

Occupational Therapy: An occupational therapist focuses on the smaller muscles that are responsible for fine motor control. These muscles are important for doing activities of daily living such as dressing, eating, writing, drawing, etc. An occupational therapist may recommend assistive devices to help the child manage his/her daily activities.

Speech Therapy: A speech therapist, as the name suggests, helps with developing/improving the speech and language skills of the child. They would suggest various communication methods like sign language for children who find themselves unable to communicate verbally. For those who don't have this limitation, speech therapists help in making their verbal communication skills better/clearer by building upon their vocabulary, learning to speak in full sentences, etc.

The Surgical Option: For certain conditions, surgery may be recommended by the doctor. It may be recommended primarily to help improve spasticity or tight heel cords. If one opts for a surgical option, it is always wise to discuss all the potential risks involved vis-a-vis any tangible benefits to make a well-informed decision.

Special Education (Ed.) Programs: Programs designed especially for children with special needs like cerebral palsy afflicted children may be employed to help the child learn by attending school. Other programs like vocational training may be employed to prepare older individuals for employment.

Family Counseling Services: Counseling services may be provided to help the family cope with the special needs of the child with cerebral palsy.

© 2010 Shil1978


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    • Shil1978 profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago

      Thanks for stopping by and sharing your story, Eliana. I appreciate you sharing this information. Your daughter would no doubt do very well with the upcoming operation and her life going forward. I'd pray for her successful operation. Wishing you both the very best. Thanks again for sharing!!

    • SpecialKids profile image


      7 years ago from Miami Beach and Jerusalem, Israel

      There are a couple of operations that are done to reduce spasticity. One is selective dorsal rhisotomy (SDR). My daughter had this when she was 4, and she was able to start walking. She is now 10 and will be having another VERY big operation--bi-lateral derotational osteotomy. It's a tough one, but she is a strong girl and very motivated to walk more gracefully. Thanks for getting ino out.

    • DSS Law profile image

      DSS Law 

      7 years ago

      Great information!

      This is useful for anyone who's life has been affected by cerebral palsy.

    • Shil1978 profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago

      Thank you jonsony for stopping by this hub and for your insightful comments - I agree!

      Best regards,

    • jonsony profile image


      8 years ago from Dublin, IRELAND

      Enjoyed reading your hub....a subject close to my heart...I have had the opportunity to be in touch with children suffering from this condition...One of the causes I would like to add is birth injuries, especially because in most cases these are avoidable...maybe a timely cesarean section where appropriate...

      It is better than a lifetime of pain that the child and the family would have to undergo..

      Kind regards

    • Shil1978 profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago

      Thanks Zsuzsy for dropping by and for your useful additions to this important topic.

      Yes, Botox is one of the treatments used. The small steps of progress CP children can make are indeed huge for both the parent and the child. While it can be taxing to care for a CP child, with support and counseling and proper medical attention, much progress can be made in equipping the child with the essential skills to perform activities of daily living.

      Thanks again for your valuable additions!!

      Best regards!

    • Zsuzsy Bee profile image

      Zsuzsy Bee 

      8 years ago from Ontario/Canada

      Great hub. May I add that in some cases of tight heel cords Botox is also one of the treatments used. Depending on the severity of CP naturally, they are having great success by teaching the child to redirect the limb commands to the other side or the unaffected part of the brain. For some children this makes the difference of them being able to walk, this is huge...I keep cheering on my young friends nine year old boy who is quite successful at walking. Unfortunately most of these treatments can be quite painful for both the CP child and the Mom.

      well written hub

      kindest regards Zsuzsy


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