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Getting the Facts About Cerebral Palsy

Cerebral palsy is the most common motor disability in children, but it is also one that is often the least understood. Cerebral palsy tends to be a disability that gets overlooked, and this may be because people don’t understand it. Many people are curious about cerebral palsy, but they may be afraid to ask. The disability affects each individual differently which may make it more difficult to truly understand what it is and how it affects people. Here’s what you need to know about cerebral palsy.

What is cerebral palsy?

Cerebral palsy is a disorder that affects muscle tone, movement, and motor skills. It affects a person’s ability to move and maintain balance and posture. Cerebral palsy is caused by abnormal brain development or damage to the developing brain that affects an individual’s ability to control his or her muscles. Usually this damage happens before or during a baby’s birth or during the first three to five years of a child’s life. Typically, the brain damage leads to other health issues or learning disabilities.

What are the signs and symptoms?

As mentioned above, cerebral palsy is different for each individual, so the signs and symptoms will vary for each individual as well. Every child should reach developmental milestones like sitting up, standing, rolling over, and walking. If your child is taking longer to reach these milestones, this could be a sign of cerebral palsy. Here are other signs and symptoms to look for:

A child with cerebral palsy who is less than 6 months old:

  • Might feel stiff

  • Might feel floppy

  • When holding the child in your arms, the child might seem to overextend his/her neck and back

  • When you pick the child up from lying on the back, his/her head might fall backwards

  • When you pick up the child, his/her legs might get stiff and cross

A child with cerebral palsy who is more than 6 months old:

  • Might not roll over in either direction

  • Might not be able to bring his/her hands together

  • Might have trouble bringing the hands to his/her mouth

  • Might reach out with only one hand while keeping the other fisted

A child with cerebral palsy who is more than 1 years old:

  • Might not crawl

  • Might not be able to stand with support

What are some common health issues/complications associated with cerebral palsy?

Again, the effects of cerebral palsy will be different for each individual. Some may have a more mild impairment while others may have a more severe impairment. The degree of impairment depends on the extent of the brain damage. This brain damage can lead to other health issues and learning disabilities. Sometimes these conditions are known right away, and other times they are found as the child gets older.

Here are some of the other effects that can occur:

  • visual impairment or blindness

  • hearing loss

  • food aspiration

  • gastroesophageal reflux

  • speech problems

  • drooling

  • tooth decay

  • sleep disorders

  • osteoporosis

  • behavior problems

  • seizures

  • intellectual disabilities

What should you do if you see these signs and symptoms?

If you see any of these signs and symptoms in your child, you will want to seek professional help immediately. The sooner you have your child screened and possibly diagnosed, the better. If your child is diagnosed, he or she can receive the services needed to improve quality of life. Although there currently is not a cure for cerebral palsy, there are treatment options that can increase motor function and independence. Treatment can include surgery, medications, physical/occupational/speech therapy, mechanical aids, counseling, and specialized education.

When you’re unsure about a disability or feel that your child might not be reaching developmental milestones at the right time, don’t be afraid to seek help and ask questions. It is better to have all of the information and get your child the services and resources that they need early on.



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