There are different types of cerebral palsy. Spastic CP is the most common. Kids
with spastic CP have stiff muscles. These may be in the upper part of the body, the
lower part, or both. They can be on one or both sides of the body.
Other types of cerebral palsy can lead to writhing movements (dyskinetic
CP) or problems with balance and walking (ataxic
CP). Some kids have more than one kind of CP. And sometimes, the type of cerebral
palsy a child has can change over time.
What Causes Cerebral Palsy?
Cerebral palsy is thought to be caused by a brain injury or problem. In spastic
CP, the injury or problem is in an area of the brain called the motor cortex.
The motor cortex plans and controls movement.
A child might be born with CP or develop it later. The brain injury or problem
doesn't get worse, but someone with CP may have different needs over time.
Cerebral palsy can be caused by:
infections during pregnancy
a stroke either in the womb or after birth
untreated jaundice (yellowing
of the skin and whites of the eyes at birth)
brain injury from an accident (such as a car accident)
Premature babies (babies
born early) are at higher risk for CP than babies born full-term. So are low-birthweight
babies (even if carried to term) and multiple births, such as twins and triplets.
What Are the Signs & Symptoms of Spastic Cerebral Palsy?
Because their muscles are tight and stiff, kids with spastic cerebral palsy do
not move smoothly. Their movements may seem jerky. Often, the muscles do not do what
the child wants them to.
Spastic (SPASS-tik) CP can be mild or severe. This depends on how much of the brain
is involved. For example, a child with mild spastic cerebral palsy might have
stiffness in just one hand. Kids with severe spastic CP, though, might not be able
to move some muscles at all. They may need help eating and use a wheelchair to get
Kids with all types of cerebral palsy can have vision, hearing, speech, eating,
behavior, and learning problems. Some have seizures.
How Is Spastic Cerebral Palsy Diagnosed?
Most children with spastic cerebral palsy are diagnosed in the first 2 years of
life. Health care providers look for signs of CP if a baby is born early or has another
health problem that's associated with CP.
No single test can diagnose spastic CP. So health care professionals look at many
things, including a child's:
surgery to improve movement in the legs, ankles, feet, hips, wrists, and arms
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: