What is Cerebral Palsy?

This is my attempt to explain CP to those unfamiliar and to raise awareness.  I am not a medical professional.  If you have concerns about your child having CP, please consult a doctor.  Please feel free to add your experience to the comment section if you are also on the road to enlightening others.

Cerebral palsy (CP) is an umbrella term encompassing a group of non-progressive, non-contagious motor conditions that cause physical disability in human development, chiefly in the various areas of body movement. Cerebral palsy affects about 1 in 278 children

Basically, this means it’s different for everyone.  You can find someone with CP that you would never realize had a disability.  At the opposite end of the spectrum, you could find someone with CP that can’t walk, talk, or even eat, independently, and has a seizure disorder.  There are also many who are in between the two scenarios.  And some outside the spectrum.

CP can often be broken down into different types.  But even in these categories, you can see a varying degree of that person’s disability.

Spastic cerebral palsy is by far the most common type, occurring in 70% to 80% of all cases.  Think about when you flex and release.  People with spasticity tend to be “tighter” or more rigid.  It’s harder to control individual muscles.  So for example, when I stretch my sons left arm, I have to work with him to make his elbow straight and then work to raise his arm over his head.  He doesn’t know how to do those individual movements.  Typically, you’ll see that his hand will still be clenched when we are doing these stretches,

Spastic CP can also be broken down into different types.

  • Spastic hemiplegia (one side being affected). Generally, injury to muscle-nerves controlled by the brain’s left side will cause a right body deficit, and vice versa. *
    This is what LJ has.  Although he had severe brain damage all over, his left side is definetly weaker then his right.  He doesn’t use his left hand or arm much, independently.  He does kick his left leg but it’s significantly less then his right.
  • Spastic diplegia (the lower extremities are affected with little to no upper-body spasticity). The most common form of the spastic forms. *
  • Spastic quadriplegia (all four limbs affected equally). *

Occasionally, terms such as monoplegia, paraplegia, triplegia, and pentaplegia may also be used to refer to specific manifestations of the spasticity.

 The other types of CP…*

Ataxia  The forms of ataxia are less common types of cerebral palsy, occurring in at most 10% of all cases. Some of these individuals have hypotonia (opposite of Spasticity, so they’re muscles are loose) and tremors.*

Athetoid or dyskinetic is mixed muscle tone — People with athetoid CP have trouble holding themselves in an upright, steady position for sitting or walking, and often show involuntary motions. For some people with athetoid CP, it takes a lot of work and concentration to get their hand to a certain spot (like scratching their nose or reaching for a cup). Because of their mixed tone and trouble keeping a position, they may not be able to hold onto objects (such as a toothbrush or pencil). About one-quarter of all people with CP have athetoid CP. The damage occurs to the extrapyramidal motor system and/or pyramidal tract and to the basal ganglia. It occurs in 10% to 20% of all cases.*

Hypotonic – People with hypotonic CP appear limp and can move only a little or can’t move at all.*

There can also be a “mix” of the different types.  Some don’t even really fall under a category.

With brain injury usually comes some other diagnosis.  Seizures are one of them (affecting about 30% of those with CP**).  Seizures are a whole other ballgame, as they come in many different degrees and lengths.  Some children may not have seizures until later on in life.  I suppose the opposite can be true, but I haven’t heard too much about it (not that I’m an expert, by any means).

Some are affected so much by high or low tone (spasticity), that it makes it difficult for them to eat.  Some eat fine, but their muscles have such high tone that they are constantly burning calories and just can’t intake enough to compensate.  Some are on pureed diets but it’s still a lot of work to eat so they can’t get enough in before being worn out.  Some, especially with low tone, have problems swallowing and end up gagging or aspirating.

There are many, many other medical issues that can come up for someone with CP, depending on the severity.  For people that don’t walk, they may have a tendon lengthening surgery to provide more comfort and prevent dislocation of a hip.  Some have CVI (Cortical Visual Impairment… I’ll get into that one later) which basically means they have a visual impairment but it has to do with the brain, not the eyes.  Some have problems with cognitive development.

CP is so common that I’m surprised I didn’t know what it was before LJ.  The main thing to remember is that everyone is affected differently.  Doctors are sometimes hesitant to give hope to parents because you just don’t know what they’ll be able to do.  But they don’t know, either.  The brain is still a pretty big mystery, despite our medical advances. 
*from Wikipedia, however I took out most of the descriptions since while defining them, Wikipedia said things like “Most people” or “least likely”.  These are not very scientific terms and I would never want to discourage parents from their children’s possible achievements, like many doctors, in my experience, do.


3 Responses

  1. awesome article Christy…. Well said. I especially like the bits about having hope beyond what doctors say.

  2. This is a good post and may be one that can be followed up to see what goes on

    A colleague e mailed this link the other day and I’m eagerly awaiting your next content. Proceed on the perfect work.

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