Cerebral Palsy (CP) is the most common physical disability in children, yet quite widely misunderstood and stigmatised. This blog disabuses the facts concerning CP.

CP is a neurological disorder affecting the part of the brain which is responsible for motor control and movement. For this reason, the condition manifests itself in muscle problems, like impaired fine and gross motor skills, balance, muscle tone, spasticity etc. While it isn’t a disease, it can be quite a debilitating condition, sometimes rendering its host indisposed. CP can’t be cured. However, it is a non-progressive condition and the damage to the brain won’t worsen over time; although related symptoms could worsen without proper treatment and therapy.

CP originates in the infant’s developing brain as a result of trauma or because of an intra-uterine pathology. That doesn’t mean that the mother is to be squarely blamed for the child’s situation. In most cases it is hard to determine the actual factors. Some reasons that could be analysed would be the family history of neurological conditions, the pregnancy tenure, foetal exposition to harmful substances or environments, maternal trauma/illness during pregnancy etc.

CP is first noticed when a baby doesn’t meet the age-appropriate developmental milestones, like head control, being able to turn over, crawl, move or stretch its limbs with the regular elasticity and firmness of muscle. The severity of the condition depends largely on the areas affected and the child’s age at the time. Apart from movement, some children may have difficulty with talking, swallowing food, breathing etc.

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Based on the type of abnormal motor reflexes characterising the child’s motor skills, CP can be broadly classified under:

  • Hypertonia (low muscle tone, strength and flaccidity)
  • Hypertonia (high muscle tone, rigidity and spasticity)

This can be further broken down into:

  • Spastic Cerebral Palsy

The most commonly diagnosed type of CP, this is a result of hypertonia. Muscles jerk stiffly and involuntarily because the region of the brain controlling voluntary movement is shorted and signals don’t get conveyed accurately.

  • Ataxia

Here children face challenges with balance, coordination and depth-perspective because the cerebellum is damaged. They have low muscle tone. This affects speech, eye movements, swallowing, gross motor skills etc.

  • Athetosis

The body is stiff yet flaccid and makes slow, involuntary muscle movements in the eyes, face, torso and limbs. This is a rarer and non-spastic type of CP. Two regions of the brain are affected – one controlling certain voluntary movements and the other controlling certain involuntary movements.

But not all cases of CP have specifically located areas of brain damage. In Mixed Cerebral Palsy the regions affected may be multiple. Based on how they affect the brain, CP can be categorised under location of movement problem:

  • Monoplegia (one limb is affected)
  • Diplegia (two limbs – usually the legs – are affected. Slight difficulty in upper body movement exits, too)
  • Paraplegia (paralysis of the lower limbs only)
  • Hemiplegia (one side of the body is affected)
  • Quadriplegia (all four limbs are affected)

It is not uncommon to see children with CP have accessory symptoms of epilepsy, depression, eating disorders etc., which are secondary derivatives of the original condition.

While Cerebral Palsy might dictate the lifestyles and routines of a person, it doesn’t define their personalities and character. It is understandably a difficult situation to deal with which requires a little more help, patience and encouragement, with treatment, therapy and more recent methods like neurofeedback they can excel in their careers and have a more welcoming future.