Cerebral palsy is a neurological disorder that most often occurs before birth, although it sometimes develops during infancy or early childhood. The resulting symptoms are due to a brain that doesn’t develop normally or an injury to the brain. A child with cerebral palsy typically has a lack of muscle coordination, stiff movements, difficulty moving or walking and stiff or floppy muscle tone. Some have vision or speech difficulties as well. Symptoms do not get worse as the child gets older.
Though the vast majority of children with cerebral palsy were born with the disorder, it can also occur during early childhood while the brain is still developing. A car accident, a fall, child abuse or a brain infection from a disease like meningitis or encephalitis can all lead to the development of cerebral palsy.
Variations in Cerebral Palsy
The condition and needs of people with cerebral palsy can vary widely. Some have minor problems controlling their muscles and moving, while others have severe muscle problems that are accompanied by developmental delay and other disorders. Though the disease cannot be cured, many with cerebral palsy can go on to lead fairly normal, highly functioning lives as older children and adults.
The main focus of cerebral palsy treatment is to help the person live as normal a life as possible. Often, this involves a combination of education and physical, occupational and speech therapy to help people with cerebral palsy maximize their muscle use and move, speak and interact as well as they can with others. Some people will need assistive devices like braces, walkers or wheelchairs to help them move around, but others will not.
In addition, some people with cerebral palsy will need to take regular medications. This might include drugs to alleviate pain, relax tense muscles or control seizures. Corrective surgery might also be an option in some cases to help with movement.
SOURCES: March of Dimes Foundation; U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke