Cerebral palsy (CP) is a group of disorders that cause problems with using the muscles and moving the body. Someone with cerebral palsy may also have seizures and learning problems. There may also be problems with hearing, seeing, or the sense of touch.
Damage to the brain before or after birth can affect how the brain works. The brain may lose some of its ability to control movement and posture. Most often the brain damage happens before birth. Sometimes it happens when a baby is born or after birth. Some possible causes of the damage are:
Often the cause of CP is hard to find and may never be known. In the past, if healthcare providers could not find another cause, they concluded that babies had CP because they did not get enough oxygen during birth. However, research has shown that most babies who don’t get enough oxygen during birth don’t have cerebral palsy. Only 5 to 10% of the babies born with cerebral palsy had problems during birth.
A child will show signs of CP in the first few years of life. The effects of CP can be mild to severe. The symptoms are different from person to person. They may change over time. Some symptoms of CP are:
Trouble controlling body movements is sometimes called spasticity.
There is no specific test for CP. The diagnosis is often made by ruling out other possible problems. Cerebral palsy is usually diagnosed during the first 2 years of life from the medical history, symptoms, a physical exam, and observing the child.
If the symptoms are mild, it can be hard to be sure of the diagnosis before the age of 4 or 5 years. It is especially hard to tell if a child has CP before he or she is 6 months old.
To look for a cause, scans of the brain may be done, such as:
Early and ongoing treatment can lessen the effects of CP. Treatment may include therapy, counseling, medicine, equipment aids, and educational programs.
Physical therapy, speech therapy, and occupational therapy
A very important part of treatment is therapy for movement, speech, and daily tasks.
Braces can help--for example, by supporting joints when the muscles are not very strong.
Counseling is helpful for family members and caretakers, as well as the person with CP. It can help you recognize and cope with stress, frustration, depression, and other emotions.
Your healthcare provider may prescribe medicines to treat abnormal muscle movement and help control seizures. This is important because sometimes seizures can be dangerous.
Glasses may help with crossed eyes and vision problems. A hearing aid can help hearing problems.
Often people with CP need help with getting around. For example, they may need walkers, wheelchairs, or other equipment to help them get places, stay in certain positions, or perform some tasks.
There are tools that help people with CP do various activities, such as feeding and dressing themselves.
Sometimes surgery can help vision problems or lengthen muscles and tendons.
If a child with CP is 3 years old or younger, ask your healthcare provider about early intervention programs (EIPs). Many states offer EIPs for young 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.
For older children ask about special education classes and individual education plans (IEPs). Find out about special services that may be available. Local schools may provide physical, occupational, or speech therapy.
It can be helpful for children who have CP to spend time with all types of children, including those who don’t have CP as well as those who do.
Cerebral palsy cannot be cured. However, with therapy to help maintain movement, strength, and activities of self-care, it usually does not get worse over time. Treatment can improve everyday life and independence.
Be sure all medicine prescribed by the healthcare provider is taken.
Do what you can to help the person with CP overcome any barriers to learning and having a full life. You can do this by working with a support team of healthcare providers, therapists, social workers, and others.
Find out about groups that can provide more information and help.
Some causes of cerebral palsy may be avoided by:
Some resources are:
You can also check with your healthcare provider, hospital, and local agencies for the handicapped for more information.