What is Cerebral Palsy?

Cerebral Palsy is a condition that affects movement, posture and coordination. These problems may be seen at or around the time of birth. If a child has cerebral palsy it means that part of their brain is either not working properly or has not developed normally. It may be the result of a problem occurring during the first weeks of the baby’s development in the womb (such as an infection) or in a number of cases can be the result of a difficult or premature birth. Sometimes there simply is no obvious cause.

Children with cerebral palsy cannot control their muscles very well. This means that their muscles are stiff or go into spasm, which means they move in a jerky and uncoordinated way. Some children with cerebral palsy are only mildly affected, and the effects of cerebral palsy will be minimal. Other children are more severely affected.

Some children can talk, sit up and walk – though they may take longer to develop these skills. Other children may require a high level of support in many areas of their lives.

Some children with cerebral palsy may have other difficulties, such as sight problems or epilepsy (seizures). Some may have learning difficulties, though many children with cerebral palsy are of normal or above average intelligence.

Cerebral palsy is not contagious. No two children are affected by cerebral palsy in exactly the same way.

Cerebral palsy cannot be cured although early support and therapeutic intervention can help children’s development.

Cerebral Palsy is frequently categorised into three main types although it is often difficult to classify exactly what type of cerebral palsy a child may have. It is not unusual for a child to have a combination of any of the following:

  1. Spastic cerebral palsy
    This is the most common form of cerebral palsy. Children with spasticity will have muscle stiffness that may affect the range of movements in their joints. The following terms are frequently used to describe the part of body most affected:

    • Hemiplegia – either the left or right half of the body is affected.
    • Diplegia – both legs are affected, the arms are either slightly affected or not at all
    • Quadriplegia – both legs and arms are equally affected.
  2. Athetoid cerebral palsy
    Children with athetoid cerebral palsy tend to make involuntary movements because their muscles change from floppy to tense in a way that is difficult for them to control. This may also affect the child’s speech and hearing.
  3. Ataxic cerebral palsy
    Children with ataxic cerebral palsy often find balance difficult and generally have un-coordinated movements. Ataxia affects the whole body. Usually children are able to walk but may be unsteady, and have shaky hand movements and irregular speech.

Whilst certain conditions do occur more frequently in children with cerebral palsy, every child is different and will not necessarily have any of the following:

  • Children with cerebral palsy may have difficulties with sleeping or toileting.
  • Cerebral Palsy can affect children’s speech and / or chewing and swallowing.
  • Some children with cerebral palsy may develop epilepsy. Medication is often used to control this.
  • Some children with cerebral palsy have difficulty processing information about shapes, speed and space.
  • Some children with cerebral palsy may have learning difficulties or a specific learning difficulty.

A physiotherapist can offer support and advice with movement and positioning for your child.
An occupational therapist can offer support and advice on equipment, play and adoptions.
A speech and language therapist can offer support and advice about feeding and communication