Cerebral Palsy Explained

Cerebral palsy refers to a group of neurological disorders that appear in infancy or early childhood and permanently affect body movement and muscle coordination.

Cerebral palsy (CP) is caused by damage to or abnormalities inside the developing brain that disrupt the brain’s ability to control movement and maintain posture and balance. The term cerebral refers to the brain; palsy refers to the loss or impairment of motor function. Cerebral palsy affects the motor area of the brain’s outer layer (called the cerebral cortex), the part of the brain that directs muscle movement.

Children with cerebral palsy exhibit a wide variety of symptoms, including: lack of muscle coordination when performing voluntary movements (ataxia); stiff or tight muscles and exaggerated reflexes (spasticity); weakness in one or more arm or leg; walking on the toes, a crouched gait, or a “scissored” gait; variations in muscle tone, either too stiff or too floppy; excessive drooling or difficulties swallowing or speaking; shaking (tremor) or random involuntary movements; delays in reaching motor skill milestones; and difficulty with precise movements such as writing or buttoning a shirt.

The symptoms of CP differ in type and severity from one person to the next, and may even change in an individual over time. Symptoms may vary greatly among individuals, depending on which parts of the brain have been injured. All people with cerebral palsy have problems with movement and posture, and some also have some level of intellectual disability, seizures, and abnormal physical sensations or perceptions, as well as other medical disorders. People with CP also may have impaired vision or hearing, and language, and speech problems.

CP is the leading cause of childhood disabilities, but it doesn’t always cause profound disabilities. While one child with severe CP might be unable to walk and need extensive, lifelong care, another child with mild CP might be only slightly awkward and require no special assistance. The disorder isn’t progressive, meaning it doesn’t get worse over time. However, as the child gets older, certain symptoms may become more or less evident.

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