Cerebral palsy (CP) is a problem that affects muscle tone, movement, and motor
skills. It hinders the body's ability to move in a coordinated and purposeful way.
It also can affect other body functions that involve motor skills and muscles, like
breathing, bladder and bowel control, eating, and talking.
CP often is caused by brain damage that happens before or during a baby's birth,
or during the first 3-to-5 years of a child's life. Brain damage also can lead to
other issues, like sight, hearing, and learning problems.
problems with motor skills, like being unable to crawl, walk, or move arms and
legs in the usual way
muscle tone that is too tight or too lose
infant reflexes (like the palmar grasp, or "hands in fists" reflex) that stay
beyond the age at which they're usually gone
What Problems Does CP Cause?
There is a range of physical and cognitive (the ability to learn and understand)
disabilities when it comes to CP. Some kids have a lot of trouble with movement or
learning, while others don't. It depends on how much the brain was damaged. For example,
the damage can be partial, affecting only the part of the brain that controls walking.
Or it can affect a larger area, like the parts that control walking and talking.
Brain damage that causes CP also can affect other brain functions and lead to problems
visual impairment or blindness
food aspiration (the sucking of food or fluid into the lungs)
and communication problems, and learning problems are more common among kids with
CP. Many have problems that can need ongoing therapy and assistive
devices like braces or wheelchairs.
How Is Cerebral Palsy Treated?
There's no cure for cerebral palsy. But resources and therapies can help kids grow
and develop to their greatest potential.
As soon as CP is diagnosed, a child can begin therapy for movement and other areas
that need help, such as learning, speech,
hearing, and social and emotional development.
Medicine helps kids who have a lot of muscle pain and stiffness. They can take
medicine by mouth or get it through a pump (the baclofen pump) placed under the skin.
Surgery can help fix dislocated hips and scoliosis
(curved spine), which are common in kids with CP. Leg braces help with walking.
Kids can improve their bone health by eating
diets high in calcium,
vitamin D, and phosphorus.
These nutrients help keep bones strong. Doctors, dietitians, and speech-language therapists
can work with families to make sure kids get enough of the right nutrients and suggest
changes to their diets or mealtime routines, if needed.
What Else Should I Know?
Kids with CP often need to see many different medical specialists for care. That
team may include doctors and surgeons, nurses, therapists, psychologists, educators,
and social workers.
Even if many medical specialists are needed, it's still important to have a primary
care doctor or a CP specialist. This doctor will take care of your child's routine
health care and also help you coordinate care with other doctors.
Where Can Caregivers Get Help?
Taking care of a child with cerebral palsy can feel overwhelming at times. Not
only do kids with CP need a lot of attention at home, they also need to go to many
medical appointments and therapies. Don't be afraid to say yes when someone asks,
"Can I help?" Your family and friends really do want to be there for you.
To feel less alone and to connect with others who are facing the same challenges,
find a local or online support group. You also can get information and support from
CP organizations, such as:
Staying strong and healthy is not only good for you, but also for your child and
your whole family.
Living with cerebral palsy is different for every child. To help your child move
and learn as much as possible, work closely with your care team to develop a treatment
plan. Then, as your child grows and his or her needs change, adjust the plan as necessary.
These guides can help as you plan for each stage of childhood and early adulthood: