Cerebral palsy is the most common reason for a child to have a physical disability. It is a general term for a group of disabling conditions caused by injury to the brain in early life during the period of brain development. Cerebral palsy is a disorder of muscle control affecting posture and movement causing problems such as weakness, spasticity or difficulties with balance and coordination.
Cerebral palsy is not a progressive condition, but changes may occur, with age, due to variations during the child’s growth and development. In addition to problems with movement, other problems may be present, such as changes in sensation, learning difficulties, intellectual disability, epilepsy, visual and hearing problems, speech disorders and eating difficulties.
Two children with cerebral palsy are born for every 1,000 live births. This has been the same for many years.
Injury to the brain occurs:
• mainly during pregnancy
• sometimes around the time of birth, for example when the baby is born prematurely
• sometimes after birth, but before the age of 2 years, due to a particular event such as meningitis or nearly drowning.
The most common feature of Cerebral Palsy (CP) is changes in muscle tone.
Spastic Cerebral Palsy presents as stiffness or tightness of muscles. This type of CP affects the part of the brain that sends the messages to the muscles (the motor cortex).
Dyskinetic Cerebral Palsy involves abnormal, involuntary movements. This type of CP, affects the part of the brain that makes it possible for a person to produce smooth, controlled movements. Often control is less when the person is during effort, excited, tired or experiencing high levels of stress.
Dystonia involves sustained or intermittent muscle contractions which cause twisting and repetitive movements.
Athetosis involves slow, writhing movements that occur particularly in the feet and hands, but may affect the whole body. The uncontrolled movements are most obvious when a child starts to move
Ataxic Cerebral Palsy is the least common type of CP and involves shaky movements or tremors, and difficulties with balance and coordination. These children often have an abnormality of the part of the brain that controls balance (the cerebellum). Walking is difficult because of these balance problems. Coordination and fine motor skills, such as the way children use their hands to write and manipulate things, may be affected and in some cases speech is also affected.
Mixed type of Cerebral Palsy is a very common presentation and often there is both an element of spasticity and dystonia
Unilateral Cerebral Palsy or Hemiplegia
Involves spasticity and/ or dystonia on one side of the body. These children are usually late walking, but eventually walk independently. They may have more obvious involvement in the arm. A number of the children have intellectual delay and epilepsy is fairly common in this group.
Bilateral Cerebral Palsy or Diplegia
Involves spasticity and/ or dystonia mostly in both legs, the arms and hands being less affected. This form often occurs when a baby is born early
Bilateral Cerebral Palsy or Quadriplegia
Involves spasticity and/ dystonia of all four limbs. Many of these children have a number of other difficulties, for example, intellectual delay, epilepsy, vision and hearing problems, communication and eating difficulties
Cerebral palsy affects every person in a different way such as what parts of the body are affected, how severe the symptoms are or if there are. One person might walk with a slight limp whereas another person might find it very difficult to move any part of their body in a controlled way
The Register, run by the Adelaide Women’s and Children’s Hospital, works together with Novita to maintain records of children with cerebral palsy born in South Australia. This makes it possible to get an accurate record of how many children have the condition, information useful in planning of services. The Register also conducts research into the causes of cerebral palsy and educates the community about the condition.
Babies and young children with Cerebral Palsy are likely to reach some of their milestones like rolling, sitting, crawling, walking, talking or using their hands to play at a slower rate than others. The rate of learning and development varies from child to child and each individual has their own strengths, challenges, interests and preferences.
They may require support with:
- Learning to move and get around
- Developing balance and motor co-ordination
- Learning to use their hands to play
- Developing communication skills
- Learning to do everyday things for themselves eg feed or dress themselves
Our team of occupational therapists, physiotherapists, psychologists, social workers and speech pathologists have extensive skills and experience to help children and young people with Cerebral Palsy.
- Early intervention and therapy
- Helping families, carers and other people involved eg teachers how to best help the child/young person with CP
- Equipment prescription
- Family support services
- Liaison and collaboration with Rehabilitation Paediatricians
If you would like information or free advice, speak to someone in our friendly team on 1300 NOVITA (1300 668 482) or visit our Contact Us page for more ways to get in touch.
Formerly The Spastic Centre, Ceberal Palsy Alliance provides a wide range of therapy and family support services to people of all ages with cerebral palsy and other physical disabilities living in New South Wales.
The aim of the Centre, based in Victoria, is to provide family centred early intervention programs and after-school programs which apply Principles of Conductive Education.
The Cerebral Palsy Guide provides free educational information, financial options and emotional support for parents and children affected by cerebral palsy.
Have you the cheek to help with cerebral palsy research? The Australian Cerebral Palsy Research Group invites children with cerebral palsy and their mothers to provide a cheek swab for investigating the possible genetic causes of cerebral palsy. We seek 2,500 Caucasian families nationally and participation is easy and painless. Please help us unlock the secrets of cerebral palsy.
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