Discovering that your child has cerebral palsy is life-changing. It may feel like a devastating blow, but there is hope. Learn more about this condition for practical solutions for your child and to find out that children with this condition can live long, healthy, and satisfying lives.
As you become more educated about cerebral palsy and discover the many treatment and therapy options, it will become clear that there is hope for your child. Even with permanent disabilities, it is possible to live fully.
What is Cerebral Palsy?
Cerebral palsy (CP) is the most common motor and movement disability of childhood. It is a neurological condition with brain damage as the underlying cause. The damage may occur while the baby is still in utero, during labor and delivery, or shortly after birth.
As an umbrella term, cerebral palsy actually refers to a group of symptoms and disorders. There are many possible symptoms, types of disabilities, and complications under the umbrella. They are all related but each child will have a unique and individual experience of cerebral palsy.
The condition affects over 500,000 people in the U.S. There is no cure, but treatments and therapies can make a big difference.
Cerebral palsy can trigger or contribute to other medical conditions as well:
- Speech problems
- Learning disabilities
- Cognitive impairments
- Problems with hearing and vision
- Emotional and behavioral challenges
- Spinal deformities
- Joint problems
Types of Cerebral Palsy
There are a four types of cerebral palsy:
Spastic Cerebral Palsy
Spastic cerebral palsy accounts for 75 percent of all people with CP. It causes increased muscle tone, known as spasticity.
Typical symptoms include:
- Delayed developmental milestones for moving.
- Abnormal movements.
- Movement inhibition.
- Stiff and spastic muscles.
- Difficulties controlling muscle movement.
- Difficulties moving from one position to another.
Spastic quadriplegia impacts a child’s upper and lower limbs and body, severely restricting mobility. Many children also have seizures, have difficulty with hearing and speech, as well as associated learning disabilities.
Spastic diplegia only affects the lower half of the body. Many of these children can still walk with some impairments. These children often need assistive devices for mobility. Other symptoms include delayed milestones, fatigue, seizures, “flexed knees,” and a crouched gait.
Spastic hemiplegia affects one side of the body only, usually the arm more than the leg. A child can adapt, and most are able to walk.
Dyskinetic Cerebral Palsy
Dyskinetic cerebral palsy (also known as dystonic and athetoid) is the second most common type of CP. Symptoms include:
- Dystonia – repetitive, twisting motions.
- Athetosis – writhing movements.
- Chorea – unpredictable movements.
- Poor posture.
- Painful movements.
- Difficulty swallowing or talking.
Ataxic Cerebral Palsy
Ataxic cerebral palsy is least common. It causes poor balance, limited coordination, tremors, and shaky movements that are difficult to control.
Mixed Cerebral Palsy
Mixed cerebral palsy causes symptoms characteristic of two or three of the other types. Spastic-dyskinetic cerebral palsy is the most common type of mixed CP.
What If I Notice Symptoms of Cerebral Palsy in My Child?
Consult your child’s pediatrician if you notice unusual symptoms. Even if you aren’t sure they are caused by cerebral palsy, take your concerns about a child’s symptoms or development to a pediatrician. Early intervention is critical when helping children with cerebral palsy.
What Causes Cerebral Palsy?
- Poor brain development in the womb.
- Maternal infections or medical conditions.
- Disruption of blood flow to the developing brain.
- Genetic conditions.
- Ingestion of toxins or drugs during pregnancy.
A difficult childbirth or a mistake made by a medical professional during delivery may cause brain damage. Premature babies are at greater risk because of complications.
Can Medical Negligence Cause Cerebral Palsy?
Yes, medical negligence can cause brain damage during pregnancy or childbirth. Mistakes that deprive a baby of oxygen during birth, for instance, can lead to damage that causes cerebral palsy. Improper use of medical tools can also cause physical damage to a baby’s brain.
A doctor may also be at fault for failing to act. A delayed decision to perform a Cesarean section for instance, could lead to damage. Not appropriately monitoring the health of the fetus, or failing to detect and treat infections or medical conditions of a woman during pregnancy can also be negligent.
Will My Child Be Intellectually Impaired?
Cerebral palsy does not necessarily cause intellectual impairment. In fact, most children with CP have average or above average intelligence. Many adults living with cerebral palsy are doctors, attorneys, teachers, and other professions. Some children, however, will develop a cognitive impairment due to the brain injury.
How is Cerebral Palsy Diagnosed?
When mild, cerebral palsy may not be diagnosed until a child is walking and talking. Your pediatrician can make a diagnosis or recommend a specialist if you suspect your child has any issues with motor development, muscle tone, or coordination and balance.
If there are factors that put your child at risk for CP, such as birth complications, you may get a diagnosis in the first few months of life. With known risk factors, parents and doctors should closely monitor for early signs of CP.
When diagnosing cerebral palsy, doctors look for spastic movements, abnormal muscle movements, delayed development, and poor coordination.
No single, easy test for cerebral palsy exists. It takes time and multiple tests and observations to get an accurate diagnosis and to rule out other conditions.
Can Cerebral Palsy Be Prevented?
In many cases there is no way cerebral palsy can be prevented. But there are always steps you can take to help lower your risk of having a baby born with the brain damage that can cause it:
- Before pregnancy, eat well and have any pre-existing medical problems under control.
- While pregnant, continue with these healthy habits and take recommended pre-natal vitamins.
- See your obstetrician for regular checkups throughout pregnancy.
- Get screened for potential complications.
Unfortunately, there is no easy way to predict when an infant will suffer brain damage due to negligence. The best you can do is choose your doctors carefully and advocate for your own healthcare and that of your child. If you have an infant or toddler at home, baby proof rooms to prevent falls or accidents that can lead to brain injury.
What Are the Treatment Options for Cerebral Palsy?
Currently, there is no cure for cerebral palsy, but it will also not get worse with time. A variety of treatment options can improve symptoms and quality of life for babies and children. Many interventions can be started immediately after a diagnosis is given.
Medications help control spastic movements, seizures, and relieve pain. Some of the drugs used for cerebral palsy symptoms are:
- Baclofen or other muscle relaxants
- Stool softeners/laxatives
- Sleep aids
Surgery is a critical part of treatment for many children with CP. Surgical procedures may improve mobility or manage pain. Common procedures include tendon or muscle release, the repair of hip dislocations, and scoliosis surgery.
Therapy helps children and babies with cerebral palsy in a variety of ways. Therapy can improve physical, mental, social, and learning deficits. If started early, therapies for cerebral palsy can reduce impairment and lessen the risk of developing other associated conditions.
Common types of therapy used to help children with cerebral palsy are:
- Horse and animal
- Bowel program
Is Cerebral Palsy Fatal?
Many children diagnosed with cerebral palsy have the same life expectancy as other kids. Life expectancy was once shorter, but better detection and therapies have improved many health conditions for these children.
While CP does not shorten life expectancy, it does generally require early intervention and good medical care for the best outcomes. This is especially true for those with severe forms of the disorder.
Some of the conditions associated with cerebral palsy can be life-threatening if not treated. These include breathing and swallowing difficulties (which can cause pneumonia or malnutrition), seizures, chronic nutritional deficiencies, or life-threatening pressure infections.
What Conditions are Associated with Cerebral Palsy?
A number of conditions are associated with cerebral palsy. Many kids with CP have at least one co-existing condition:
- Hearing deficits
- Vision impairment
- Cognitive disability
- Behavioral, emotional issues
- Feeding problems and nutritional deficiencies
- Gastric reflux
- Joint problems
- Sleep disorders
What is the Prognosis for Cerebral Palsy?
The prognosis for cerebral palsy depends on individual factors, but except in severe cases it is possible for most to have a normal life. Many children with cerebral palsy have average or above average intelligence and are mobile with or without assistance.
Most kids can go to school with their peers. They may need adaptive equipment to assist with communication, hearing or vision, or for physical needs and mobility.
Some children have mild CP, and aside from muscle spasms and tightness, may be able to participate in school and other activities to the same degree as any other child.
Children with more severe forms of cerebral palsy may have multiple associated conditions. These conditions are typically what cause ongoing medical problems that can affect quality of life and longevity.
What Do I Do If I Can’t Afford My Child’s Care?
The care required for a child with special needs can be costly. According to the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), the average cost is $921,000. This doesn’t include out-of-pocket expenses or lost wages. If you find yourself struggling, there are several options to try.
Kids with motor dysfunctions may qualify for cash assistance from the government. This falls under section 111.000 of the Social Security disability insurance program. Those approved for cash assistance from the Social Security Administration (SSA) usually also qualify for full medical insurance at little to no charge.
You may also qualify for free or reduced child care under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) or educational assistance under The Individuals with Disabilities Act of 2004.
If your child’s cerebral palsy was caused by medical negligence, you have the option to file for compensation from the responsible party through legal action.
How Do I Know if My Child’s Disorder Was Caused by Medical Negligence?
Medical negligence occurs when a doctor or another healthcare professional causes preventable harm to a patient by failing to provide an accepted standard of care. Incidents in which negligence may have caused CP include but are not limited to:
- A doctor failing to diagnose a maternal condition that led to brain injuries.
- A doctor, nurse, or other healthcare professional failing to monitor and treat maternal or fetal distress.
- Improper use of tools to assist in the birthing process.
- The doctor failing to schedule emergency C-section when indicated by fetal distress.
- A doctor failing to detect and treat infant hypoxia, jaundice or infection, leading to brain damage.
Malpractice cases are complicated. There has to be enough evidence just to start a case. Specific guidelines set by state laws have to be met first.
Additionally, you’ll need to demonstrate that injuries did indeed come from the negligence of a healthcare provider. But, if the case is valid, a successful lawsuit can help you take care of your child for life.
What is the United Cerebral Palsy?
United Cerebral Palsy (UCP) is a non-profit organization that helps people with cerebral palsy. Assistance from UCP comes from over 80 national affiliates and includes help with transportation, housing, recreational activities, traveling, health awareness, assistive technologies, advocacy in education, and more.
According to the official UCP site, “UCP educates, advocates and provides support services to ensure a life without limits for people with a spectrum of disabilities. UCP works to advance the independence, productivity and full citizenship of people with disabilities through an affiliate network that has helped millions.”
Is There a Cure For Cerebral Palsy?
No, cerebral palsy cannot be cured, but it is also not progressive. Scientists and researchers are conducting ongoing studies to try to find a cure and better ways to prevent CP. Promising studies include those involving stem cells, which may be used to replacing damaged cells with healthy ones in the brain.
While there is no cure, parents can give their child the best possible start with good, early care. It is also important to file a lawsuit to get compensation and to hold a negligent healthcare worker responsible. A successful case will help provide for the costs of a child’s care.