Cerebral Palsy

A boy with cerebral palsy laughing with his dad.

What is Cerebral palsy?

Cerebral palsy is a physical condition affecting muscle control and movement. It is usually caused by damage to the brain before, during or shortly after birth. Causes can be complex, and as a result doctors are often unable to give a specific reason for the condition. However, for 80% of those affected, the damage to the brain happened while the baby was growing in the womb.

Factors include genetic problems, malformations of the brain, and maternal infection such as rubella or toxoplasmosis. Cerebral palsy cannot currently be screened before birth.

There are three types of cerebral palsy: spastic, dyskinetic and ataxic. Many people will have a mixture of all three types.

  • Spastic cerebral palsy, accounting for about 70% of cases, affects the muscles in the body, making them tight, stiff and weak, and thus making it hard to control movement. 
  • Dyskinetic cerebral palsy (accounting for 10% of cases) leads to muscle control being disrupted by spontaneous writhing movements, with the muscles used for speech sometimes also affected.
  • Ataxic cerebral Palsy (accounting for 20% of cases) causes problems with balance, shaking limbs, and speech difficulties.

(Information sourced from Scope and BBC Health).

How it affects people

  • Children with cerebral palsy will have difficulties controlling their muscles and movements. The condition itself, however, is not progressive.
  • Depending on the area of the brain affected, some children may experience associated difficulties which become apparent as they develop. These difficulties can include:
  • Crawling and walking, dressing, maintaining posture.
  • Feeding and speech (due to the lack of coordination of the muscles of the mouth)
  • Sleeping
  • Writing
  • Hearing or Visual impairment
  • Epilepsy - affecting one in three children and adolescents with cerebral palsy
  • Behavioural problems such as anxiety or hyperactivity – these affect one in four children with cerebral palsy

A common misconception is that people with cerebral palsy inevitably have learning disabilities. This may have arisen because people with the condition can have problems controlling their facial movements and speech, and it can be difficult to understand them at first. Cognitive or learning disabilities do occur and it is estimated that 45% of children with cerebral palsy have a learning disability. However, as with any other children, there is a wide range of intelligence, and many perform very well at school.

There is no cure for cerebral palsy and each person with it is affected in a different way, but physiotherapy and other therapies (e.g. speech and language therapy) can often help people become more independent.

How many people have cerebral palsy?

About one in every 400 children is affected by cerebral palsy in the UK, with the condition affecting people from all ethnic and social groups. (Read more on the Scope website).

Scope works with disabled people and their families, offering practical support through information, education and everyday care, and aiming to challenge assumptions about disability.

The NHS also has a page dedicated to cerebral palsy.

 

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