Cerebral Palsy

Happy disabled boy being pushed in wheelchair, smiling, with ocean beach in background

What is Cerebral Palsy?
Cerebral Palsy (CP) is a disorder that impairs an individual’s ability to control body movements as a result of damages in the developing brain. CP is usually identified by 2 to 3 years of age. CP is a non-progressive brain disorder in the sense that the damage to the brain does not continue to worsen. However, symptoms the individual experiences may change over time despite the brain damage remaining the same; sometimes getting better and sometimes getting worse. CP is a permanent condition that only develops near the time of birth and is not able to be developed later in life.

Causes of Cerebral Palsy

CP is caused by an injury to the brain before, during, or shortly after birth. In many cases, it is unknown what causes the injury to the brain or what might have been done to prevent it. Potential causes are as follows:

  • Before birth. The injury to the brain may happen while the fetus is still in the womb, for instance, if the mother develops an infection or has an accident where she is injured. Existing medical conditions such as high blood pressure or diabetes during pregnancy may also be causes.
  • During birth. There may be problems during the birth such as the baby not receiving enough oxygen or a difficult delivery in which the baby’s brain is injured.
  • Shortly after birth. Problems may arise when the baby is born prematurely and his/her body is not ready to live outside the womb. In some cases, even babies born at term may develop an infection or bleeding in the brain that may cause an injury.

Different Types of CP

  • Spastic CP is the most common form of CP affecting nearly 80% of individuals diagnosed with CP. People with spastic CP have increased muscle tone, meaning their muscles are stiff which can make movement difficult and somewhat awkward. Spastic CP can be present in the legs, one side of the body, or the whole body.
  • Ataxic CP is characterized by difficulty coordinating movement due of low muscle tone. Doing things that require movement, such as walking, are particularly challenging because of poor balance and uncontrollable shaking. Individuals with ataxic CP generally require longer periods of time to finish tasks requiring the use of fine motor skills (i.e. writing, drawing, using scissors, etc.).
  • Dyskinetic CP (also includes athetoid, choreoathetoid, and dystonic cerebral palsies) is characterized by involuntary movement in the person’s hands, arms, feet, and legs. This form of CP makes it difficult to sit or walk. The involuntary movement can be slow and writhing or quick and fast. Individuals with dyskinetic CP have muscle tone that can change (from too tight or too loose) from day to day.
  • Mixed Cerebral Palsy is when people have symptoms of more than one type of CP. The most common form of mixed CP is spastic-dyskinetic CP.

Problems Associated with CP

As CP is directly related to the individual’s ability to control muscle movement, it can be difficult for people with CP to perform daily living tasks. In addition to problems controlling muscle movement, damages in the brain may affect other areas of functioning as well.

  • Talking and eating: CP affects the way people move the muscles in their head, face, and mouth. This makes it challenging to speak clearly, bite, chew, or swallow food. People with CP may be hard to understand because it requires significant coordination to move the mouth’s muscles to pronounce the words properly.
  • Learning problems: One fourth of people with CP have a specific learning disability. Individuals with CP may experience challenges with learning at the pace of their peers, in which global learning comes at a slower rate.
  • Seizures: In some cases, the brain injury initially causing CP can cause seizures. These are a sudden attack of electrical impulses in the brain causing the body to react. The reaction can range from petit mal (blank stare) to grand mal (uncontrollable shaking of the body).

Therapy for Cerebral Palsy

Afflicted individuals may need different types of therapy to help improve motor skills such as walking, talking, or using their hands.

  • Physical therapy: Physical therapy can help people develop new ways to balance themselves during movement such as walking, using a wheelchair, standing by themselves, or going up and down the stairs safely.
  • Speech and Language Therapy: This form of therapy is effective in working on various forms of communication skills such as talking, using sign language, or using visual aids to create a pathway for communication. Speech or language therapy can assist individuals with CP to communicating in new ways in order to both establish a sense of understanding and acquire necessary language skills.
  • Occupational Therapy: This form of therapy can assist individuals with CP to improve their ability to use arms, hands, and the upper body. Occupational therapy can help facilitate easier ways to write, draw, brush hair, dress, or eat.
  • Recreational Therapy: This form of therapy can be used to help individuals with CP expand their physical and cognitive abilities. Engaging in enjoyable activities is a vital factor to a healthy quality of life. Recreational therapy is to help people with CP have fun and develop skills that enhance their life. Recreational activities may include dancing, swimming, or arts and crafts.

How can CP be prevented?

Measures for prevention are becoming increasingly feasible. It is highly recommended that woman utilize proper prenatal care to avoid premature birth, reduce exposure to viruses and infections, avoid exposure to x-rays, drugs and medication, and manage any medical conditions such as diabetes or anemia during pregnancy. Additionally, some cases of CP can be prevented by ensuring overall health prior to conception as well as protecting infants from hazards and injuries. Nonetheless, there are some cases where the causes of CP are unknown and could not have been prevented.

Addressing the Needs of the Consumers

  • We provide support to individuals with CP by developing new ways to communicate with to others. In some cases, we may assist individuals in utilizing assistive technology specializing in communication such as the Dynavox.
  • We provide mobility training that is specifically tailored to address the needs for individuals with CP.
  • We also provide assistance with locating and obtaining various supports and resources (physical therapy, speech/language therapy, occupational therapy, recreational activities, etc.) for individuals with CP.