What is Cerebral Palsy?
According to the Mayo Clinic, cerebral palsy (CP) is a “disorder of movement, muscle tone or posture that is caused by damage that occurs to the immature, developing brain, most often before birth.” The signs and symptoms of CP can vary greatly and appear during infancy or preschool years. Signs and symptoms of CP include problems with swallowing, eye muscle imbalance, reduced range of movement due to muscle stiffness, floppiness or rigidity of the limbs and trunk, abnormal posture, unsteady walking or a combination of these.
CP’s effect on functional abilities varies greatly, and each person may be affected differently. Some people with CP can walk without a mobility device, some may use a walker, and some may use a wheelchair. Some may have intellectual or developmental disabilities, while others do not. Some people with CP may experience seizures. Others may have sensory disabilities.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the “brain damage that leads to CP can happen before birth, during birth, within a month after birth, or during the first years of a child’s life, while the brain is still developing.” There are two types of CP: Congenital, which occurs before or during birth, and Acquired, which occurs more than 28 days after birth. Congenital CP accounts for 85-90% of cases and, in many of these cases, the cause is not known. Risk factors for congenital CP include low birthweight, premature birth, assisted reproductive technology infertility treatments, infections during pregnancy, jaundice and kernicterus experienced by the child, medical conditions of the mother, and birth complications. Acquired CP accounts only for a small percentage of cases and is usually associated with an infection, such as meningitis; a head injury; or a problem with blood flow to the brain. The risk factors of acquired CP include infancy as infants are at greater risk of a brain damaging event than older children, preterm or low birthweight, brain infections, and a brain injury.
To Learn More About Cerebral Palsy
Along with the Mayo Clinic and the CDC, the following organizations also provide information:
- The American Academy of Pediatrics provides information on CP that includes information on treatments and associated problems. The information is also available Spanish.
- The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) provides information on CP that includes information on prevention, diagnosis, treatments, adults with CP, and research. NINDS also provides a list of resources and provides information in Spanish.
- United Cerebral Palsy (UCP) began as a nonprofit supporting children with cerebral palsy and their families. It has broadened its mission to support the health, welfare, and civil rights of all people with disabilities. Both the national office and local affiliates offer a range of resources and supports for individuals with CP and their families.