Cerebral palsy (CP) is a group of disorders that cause problems with moving and using the muscles.
CP is caused by damage to the part of the brain that controls muscles. Most children who have CP are born with it. A small number of children get CP after a brain injury or infection. The brain loses some of its ability to control movement and posture. The damage is not repairable, and can cause permanent disability. Some possible causes of the damage are:
Often the cause of CP is not known.
The effects of CP can be mild to severe. The symptoms are different from person to person and may change over time. Symptoms may include:
Cerebral palsy is usually diagnosed during the first 6 months to 2 years of life from the medical history, symptoms, a physical exam, and observation of your child. If the symptoms are mild, it can be hard to be sure of the diagnosis before the age of 4 or 5 years.
Your child may have tests or scans to check for other possible causes of the symptoms, such as an infection or a tumor.
Cerebral palsy cannot be cured. Treatment can help your child keep the ability to use and control their muscles. Treatment may include therapy, counseling, medicine, educational programs, and sometimes surgery.
Physical therapy, speech therapy, and occupational therapy
Physical therapy and occupational therapy help your child use and strengthen muscles. These types of therapy can make it easier for your child to learn to take care of himself. Your child may learn how to use walkers or wheelchairs to get places or stay in certain positions. Braces can also help by supporting joints when your child’s muscles are not very strong. Your child may learn to use tools to help with daily activities, such as jar openers, buttonhooks, or household items with large handles.
Physical therapy also helps avoid a common and serious problem called contractures. Contractures mean the muscles and other tissues are stuck in a rigid, abnormal position. Contractures can cause problems with balance and use of the muscles. It can keep you from being able to move joints, like your elbow and knee. Contractures can become permanent if they are not treated.
Speech therapy helps improve speaking, eating, chewing, and swallowing. Special techniques and devices, such as computers or a special board covered with symbols of everyday objects and activities to which a child can point to indicate his or her wishes.
Counseling can help your child cope with stress, frustration, depression, and other emotions.
Your healthcare provider may prescribe medicines to treat abnormal muscle movement and help control seizures.
Ask your child’s healthcare provider about early intervention programs (EIPs) for young children. Many states offer EIPs for children with CP. Some states also offer special education classes for children between the ages of 3 and 5 years. Children with disabilities have priority for admission to Head Start programs.
Usually children with CP can go to public school and the school district provides all needed services. These include working with a speech therapist, occupational therapist, school psychologist, social worker, school nurse, or aide. You may want to visit public schools in your area to see the type of programs they offer to special-needs children.
A team of professionals will help evaluate your child and put a plan together. You may also ask your healthcare provider to review the plan. Ask and learn about all the services that may be available for your child.
Sometimes surgery can help vision problems or severe muscle problems.
In some cases, you may not be able to prevent cerebral palsy, but you may be able to manage or avoid some of the risk factors.