Cerebral palsy

Cerebral palsy is the most common physical disability in childhood. It is a general term for a group of conditions caused by non-progressive disturbances to the developing brain during pregnancy or infancy. There is no cure for cerebral palsy (CP) and for most people living with CP the cause is unknown.

Cerebral palsy presents as a life-long disorder of posture and movement and may be accompanied by other impairments such as disturbances of sensation, communication issues, epilepsy, visual, hearing and behavioural issues.

About cerebral palsy

Whilst cerebral palsy is not a progressive condition, changes may occur over time. As the child grows and uses their muscles more, their muscles may become tighter. Cerebral palsy varies greatly in how it affects the individual due to varying types of CP, severity of movement disorder, and related functional abilities and limitations.

Early intervention is important in supporting children with CP and their families. Novita therapists can support you and your child to optimise development of their skills.


Types of cerebral palsy

The most common feature of cerebral palsy is change in muscle tone.

Spastic Cerebral Palsy presents as stiffness or tightness of muscles. This arises from damage to the part of the brain that sends the messages to the muscles (the motor cortex).  Movements may be difficult, appearing stiff and jerky.

Dyskinetic Cerebral Palsy presents as variable, involuntary movements due to damage in the part of the brain that enables a person to produce smooth, and controlled movements. these movements are often more evident when the child performs or attempts a movement. There are three main types of dyskinetic movement disorders:

Dystonia which causes twisting and repetitive movements and abnormal posturing.

Athetosis involves slow, writhing movements that occur particularly in the feet and hands, but may affect the whole body.

Chorea presents as irregular and unpredictable movements.

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 a disturbance of the part of the brain that controls balance (the cerebellum).

Mixed type of Cerebral Palsy is a very common presentation and often there is evidence of both spasticity and dystonia.

Cerebral Palsy can also be described by the area affected:

Unilateral (hemiplegic) cerebral palsy
– one side (arm and leg) of the body is affected.

Bilateral cerebral palsy
– Both legs affected and to a lesser degree the arms (diplegic) Both legs and arms, and trunk and face may also be affected (quadriplegic)
– Both legs and arms, and trunk and face may also be affected (quadriplegic)



The following classification tools can be used to describe the functional abilities of the child regarding their mobility, use of their hands to handle objects in daily activities and communication.

Gross Motor Functional Classification System (GMFCS)  

Manual Ability Classification System (MACS)

Communication Function Classification System (CFCS)


Cerebral Palsy Register

The South Australian Cerebral Palsy Register (SACPR) collects information on children born with cerebral palsy born in South Australia.

Run by the Adelaide Women’s and Children’s Hospital, it 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 living with cerebral palsy

It is recommended that early therapy is implemented for babies and young children with any type or severity of cerebral palsy.  The first two years of life is a critical period for neuroplasticity and so the brain is most likely to be more responsive to intensive practice of activities during this time.  Novita therapists provide therapy that addresses the individual needs of the baby and young child to support this approach.  This also includes working with parents to enable them to provide their child with lots of opportunities to practice these skills in their daily life activities, to facilitate their young brain to adapt and learn.

The rate of learning and focus of development varies from child to child and changes as they grow.  The Novita therapy team of occupational therapists, physiotherapists, psychologists, social workers, educators and speech pathologists provides input that adapts accordingly to meet these changing and varied needs as the child grows to become school age and an adolescent and an adult.


Adults living with cerebral palsy

When many people think of cerebral palsy, they think of kids or young people. But most children with cerebral palsy will become adults who want to live full lives in the community. The neurological injury caused by cerebral palsy does not change during adulthood, but the impairments caused by the injury can become progressive.

Adults with cerebral palsy use three to five times the amount of energy that people without cerebral palsy use in their daily lives, and this can cause impairments over time. The physical demands of cerebral palsy can also cause other health challenges in adulthood, such as progressive loss of hearing or vision, respiratory problems, osteoporosis, hypertension, kidney stones, and nutritional problems.

People with cerebral palsy who have trouble sleeping because of physical complications, stress in their environment, and feelings of loneliness are at increased risk of developing depression. The rate of depression is estimated to be three to four times higher among people with disabilities like cerebral palsy.

The Novita therapy team of occupational therapistsphysiotherapistspsychologistssocial workers, educators and speech pathologists can assist to meet the changing and varied needs of adults living with cerebral palsy and support you live a functional, independent life.


Services for cerebral palsy

The Novita therapy team of occupational therapists, physiotherapists, psychologists, social workers, educators and speech pathologists  can provide the following services for children with cerebral palsy:

  • Assessments to determine developmental need
  • Regular review assessments to monitor progress and address changes
  • Early intervention
  • Goal directed therapy
  • Support for transition to preschool and school
  • Equipment prescription and training
  • Family support services
  • Liaison with Rehabilitation Paediatricians


Helpful links

About Cerebral Palsy

Provides up-to-date, evidence-based information about cerebral palsy, for people with cerebral palsy, families and clinicians. Information is provided by qualified health professionals, in consultation with people with cerebral palsy and their families.


Collaborative project involving researchers, clinicians and allied health professionals,  parents, carers and persons with cerebral palsy to support research, and provide resources and training on cerebral palsy.


A research centre that is very active in generating knowledge about developmental conditions including cerebral palsy.

My CP Guide

Understanding cerebral palsy across all stages of life. My CP Guide collects, reviews, and assesses existing, credible information from around the world and makes it easily available for you.


For More Information

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.