Cerebral Palsy


Editor, Focus on Adoption magazine
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It is a disorder caused by injury to the parts of the brain that control our ability to use our muscles and bodies. "Cerebral" means having to do with the brain. "Palsy" means weakness or problems with using the muscles.

Often the injury happens before birth, sometimes during delivery or soon after being born. Cerebral palsy can be mild, moderate, or severe. Mild cerebral palsy may mean a child is clumsy. Moderate cerebral palsy means the child walks with a limp. He or she may need a special leg brace or a cane. More severe cerebral palsy can affect all parts of a child's physical abilities.

A child with moderate or severe cerebral palsy may have to use a wheelchair and other special equipment. More words used to describe the different types of cerebral palsy include:

  • Diplegia: only the legs are affected
  • Hemiplegia: one half of the body (such as the right arm and leg) is affected
  • Quadripegia: both arms and legs are affected, sometimes including the facial muscles and torso

Cerebral palsy is caused by injury to the cerebrum (the largest portion of the brain, which is involved higher mental faculties, sensations, and voluntary muscle activities).

Initially, cerebral palsy was thought to be related to birth asphyxia (strangulation during birth, which leads to lack of oxygen to the brain) and trauma. But a study of 45,000 births showed that birth asphyxia is an uncommon cause of cerebral palsy.

Researches suspect that certain factors or events during the development of the fetus may make it more susceptible to hypoxia (too little oxygen in the cells of the body) and this may be why some infants are affected while others can suffer low oxygen levels but not lasting brain damage. Premature infants have a slightly higher incidence of cerebral palsy. Cerebral palsy may also occur during early infancy as a result of illness (encephalitis, meningitis), head injuries, and many others.

The characteristics are:

  • Seizures
  • Muscle contractions
  • Difficulty sucking or feeding
  • Irregular breathing
  • Delayed developmental of motor skills such as reading, sitting, rolling, crawling, walking
  • Mental retardation
  • Speech abnormalities
  • Visual, hearing abnormalities

There is no specific cure for cerebral palsy. The goal of treatment is to maximize independence. Treatment is guide by the symptoms exhibited and may include braces, appropriate glasses and hearing aids, medications, special education or appropriate schooling, and, in severe cases, institutionalization.

Typically, children with cerebral palsy may need different kind of therapy, including:

  • Physical therapy, which helps the child develop stronger muscles such as those in the legs and trunk. Through physical therapy, the child works on skill such as walking, sitting and keeping his or her balance.
  • Occupational therapy, which helps the child develop fine motor skills such as dressing, feeding, writing.
  • Speech-language pathology, which helps the child develop his or her communication skills. The child may work in particular on speaking, which may be difficult due to problems with muscle tone of the tongue and throat.

The complications may be:

  • Seizures
  • Injuries from falls
  • Reduced mobility, communication skills and intellect (sometimes)
  • Social stigmatization
  • Failure to thrive

This resource is by no means intended as a substitute for a doctor's advice or diagnosis. Any concerns you may have with regard to your child's health and development should be discussed with a professional in an appropriate field.