Children with cerebral palsy generally have a number of medical conditions associated with the disorder. Known as associated disorders or associated conditions, almost all children with cerebral palsy have at least one health issue caused by or connected with cerebral palsy.
Seizures are a common associated disorder of cerebral palsy. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), around 35% of all children with cerebral palsy will experience seizures. There are different types of seizures, and the symptoms will depend upon what form the child experiences.
When a child experiences a seizure, it’s due to electrical activity misfiring in the brain. Some of the various reasons misfiring occurs is due to brain damage, head injuries, dehydration, infections, tumors, and genetic factors.
There are numerous different types of seizures, such as:
- Absence seizures: Children with absence seizures may stare into space and have small and subtle body movements, such as eye blinking and lip smacking.
- Atonic seizures: Children with atonic seizures have temporary loss of muscle control and may collapse onto the floor without warning.
- Clonic seizures: Clonic seizures are marked by jerking muscle movement in the arms, face, and neck.
- Myoclonic seizures: Children with myoclonic seizures will have temporary jerking in the arms and legs.
- Tonic-clonic seizures: Tonic-clonic seizures are the most severe type of seizures, marked by body shakes, loss of consciousness, the body stiffening, and in some instances, loss of bladder control.
Dysphagia is a medical term that simply means difficulties with swallowing. Children with cerebral palsy are at risk of dysphagia due to poor muscle and motor function control. Symptoms may include:
- Inability to swallow and/or pain when trying to swallow
- Feeling stomach acid in the throat
- Unusual weight loss
- Hoarse voice
- Food stuck in the chest area and/or throat
- Gagging and coughing when attempting to swallow
- Delayed (or sometimes absent) swallowing reflex
- Back pain
- Sore throat
It’s important to work with your child’s physician when addressing swallowing issues. Oftentimes, it’s recommended that the child sees a team of healthcare professionals, including a dietician, occupational therapist, and in some cases, a dysphasia specialist.
Oral Health Issues
Cerebral palsy doesn’t cause mouth abnormalities or deformities, but it can cause oral issues, such as excessive gagging, problems with drinking and eating, gingivitis, involuntary cheek and tongue biting, and more.
Other conditions associated with cerebral palsy and oral health include:
- Tooth decay and cavities
- Teeth grinding while sleeping
- Abnormal alignment in the upper teeth and lower teeth
- Mouth trauma
Since children with cerebral palsy have a difficult time with brushing, flossing, and keeping their teeth clean, it’s especially important that they see a dentist (preferably a dentist with experience with special needs children) on a regular basis for cleanings and to check for dental problems.
Children with cerebral are at risk of vision problems such as Cerebral visual impairment (caused by brain damage), strabismus (caused by eye issues), and hyperopia (long-sightedness). Pediatricians recommend that you get your child’s vision as early in life as possible, followed by regular checkups.
Vision problems can create a number of its own associated disorders, including:
- Impaired learning abilities
- Accident-prone due to vision issues
- Difficulties with learning to read and write
- Diminished life span (according to studies, it’s still unclear if vision span affects life span or if vision problems are associated with a brain disorder that’s associated with a diminished life span)
Not all children will experience cognitive issues, but a scientific study on cerebral palsy published in Disability and Rehabilitation (Volume 28, Issue 4, 2006) states that “a large proportion” of children with CP will have some form of cognitive impairment.
It’s important to note that cognitive impairment doesn’t mean your child lacks cognitive functioning. On the contrary, a child with cognitive impairment still has cognitive functioning, but has an impairment, which can range from mild to severe.
Common cognitive issues (not all children will experience each issue) associated with cerebral palsy include:
- Attention deficit disorder (ADD)
- Challenges with behavior
- Emotional problems (inability to connect with others emotionally)
- Psychological issues
- Depression, anxiety, and mood swings
- Problems with comprehension and decision-making skills
- Memory and learning issues
- Recognition issues
The structural abnormalities in the system of a child with cerebral palsy may cause long-term digestive issues. Common symptoms of digestive issues include:
- Unable to feed (as babies)
- Issues with swallowing and/or sucking
- Unusual weight gain or weight loss
- Bladder infections
- Unusual fatigue
Skin conditions often affect children with cerebral palsy due to excessive drooling and the inability to wash their hands and faces correctly, change their bed sheets, and perform other tasks to stay hygienic. Accidents and injuries can also cause skin conditions, but these issues are non-infectious and will generally heal on their own. It’s important to keep your child as clean and as safe as possible to avoid potential skin issues.
Problems that may arise for children with cerebral palsy include:
- Skin infections and irritations
- Skin ulcers
- Staph infections
- Boils and pimples
- Impetigo, and more
Difficulties in swallowing, low activity levels, excessive drooling, blocked airways, and the inability to cough are among a few of the various reasons that children with cerebral palsy may experience respiratory issues. Respiratory issues are a serious conditions and parents must do their best to monitor their child’s breathing and respiratory functions as much as possible.
There are numerous respiratory conditions associated with cerebral palsy, including:
- Bronchopulmonary dysplasia
- Respiratory distress syndrome (RDS)
- Chronic lung disease
- Pneumonia, and more
Many of these associated conditions can become life-threatening for children, which is why it’s important as a parent to always stay on top of your child’s breathing patterns. If you detect anything abnormal, make a medical appointment as soon as possible.
Behavioral and Emotional Problems
One in four children with cerebral palsy will experience some form of emotional and/or behavioral problems. These issues depend on how severe your child’s other associated disorders are. For example, children with intellectual disabilities and severe physical disabilities are more prone to develop emotional and behavioral problems. Examples of emotional and behavioral problems include:
- Withdrawing from social activities
- Arguing with peers
- Acting out in class
- Quick to anger
Physical and Mobility Issues
Physical and mobility issues are synonymous with cerebral palsy. The issues can range from mild spastic movements to more severe issues such as being unable to walk without assistance or needing a wheelchair to get around. Physical and mobility issues also depend on the type of cerebral palsy the child has, such as spastic, athetoid, ataxic, etc.
Around 7% of children with cerebral palsy have autism, a much higher rate than the 1% of children without cerebral palsy that develop autism. There are various forms of autism, ranging from mild to severe. Asperger’s Syndrome, considered a mild form of autism, is one of the most prevalent forms of the disorder that children with cerebral palsy have.
Sleep Issues and Disorders
Sleep issues are a common occurrence among children with cerebral palsy, usually due to associated health problems with cerebral palsy are the main reason for sleep issues and disorders. The most common health issues that contribute to the sleep issues include muscle spasms, pain, drooling, skin ulcers, and gastro-intestinal reflux disorder (GERD).
Children with cerebral palsy are at a heightened risk of also having attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) when compared to non-disabled children. ADHD is marked by impulsiveness and hyperactivity, and/or lack of focus, forgetfulness, making careless errors, trouble turning in school work on time, and more. Some children are impulsive and hyper, while others are chronically inattentive. Most kids with ADHD, however, are both hyper and impulsive, as well as inattentive.