Cerebral Palsy - General Information
Cerebral palsy is a condition caused by damage to the brain, usually occurring before,
during or shortly following birth. "Cerebral" refers to the brain and
"palsy" to a disorder of movement or posture. It is neither progressive nor
communicable. It is also not "curable" in the accepted sense, although
education, therapy and applied technology can help persons with cerebral palsy lead
productive lives. It is not a disease and should never be referred to as such. It can
range from mild to severe.
The causes of cerebral palsy include illness during pregnancy, premature delivery, or lack
of oxygen supply to the baby; or it may occur early in life as a result of an accident,
lead poisoning, viral infection, child abuse, or other factors. Chief among the causes is
an insufficient amount of oxygen or poor flow of blood reaching the fetal or newborn
brain. This can be caused by premature separation of the placenta, an awkward birth
position, labor that goes on too long or is too abrupt, or interference with the umbilical
cord. Other causes may be associated with premature birth, RH or A-B-O blood type
incompatibility between parents, infection of the mother with German measles or other
viral diseases in early pregnancy, and microorganisms that attack the newborn's central
nervous system. Lack of good prenatal care may also be a factor. A less common type is
acquired cerebral palsy: head injury is the most frequent cause, usually the result of
motor vehicle accidents, falls, or child abuse.
Between 500,000 - 700,000 Americans have some degree of cerebral palsy. About 3,000 babies
are born with the disorder each year, and another 500 or so acquire it in the early years
There are three main types of cerebral palsy: spastic -- stiff and difficult movement;
athetoid -- involuntary and uncontrolled movement; and ataxic -- disturbed sense of
balance and depth perception. There may be a combination of these types for any one
individual. Other types do occur, although infrequently.
Cerebral palsy is characterized by an inability to fully control motor function. Depending
on which part of the brain has been damaged and the degree of involvement of the central
nervous system, one or more of the following may occur: spasms; tonal problems;
involuntary movement; disturbance in gait and mobility; seizures; abnormal sensation and
perception; impairment of sight, hearing or speech; and mental retardation.
Developmental, Educational and Employment Implications
Early identification of cerebral palsy can lessen developmental problems and lead to
appropriate intervention when it helps the most. Early intervention programs are
family-centered in which professionals and families work together with the child in
specific activities. Educators, physical and occupational therapists, social workers,
speech- language pathologists, psychologists and physicians can assist families by
providing information and education. Activities for children with cerebral palsy may
include: speech and language therapy; occupational therapy; physical therapy; medical
intervention; family support services; early education; and
As a child gets older and begins formal schooling, the intensity of services will vary
from individual to individual. Persons with cerebral palsy are usually able to attain a
substantial degree of independence but, in some cases, may need considerable assistance.
Services for the school age child may include continuing therapy, regular or special
education, counseling, technical support, community integration opportunities, recreation
and possible personal attendants. A key factor seems to be a supportive family. People
extensively affected by cerebral palsy can still be highly functional and independent. The
HEATH Resource Center, the clearinghouse on postsecondary education for individuals with
disabilities, states that a significant number of students with cerebral palsy are
enrolled in colleges and universities.
Important advances have taken place in the last 15 years which have had a great effect on
the long-term well-being of children born with cerebral palsy. Advanced technology,
including computers and engineering devices, has been applied to the needs of persons with
cerebral palsy. Technological innovations have been developed in the areas of speech and
communication, self-care, and adapting living arrangements and work sites. The future may
bring even more significant applications.
Another important development has been the increased ability of persons with disabilities,
including those who have cerebral palsy and other severe disabilities, to live
independently in the community. Adults with cerebral palsy are now living, with or without
assistance, in their own apartments or townhouses. Independent Living Centers have also
proven to be important resources for persons with disabilities.
Geralis, E. (1991). Children with Cerebral Palsy, A Parent's Guide. Rockville, MD:
Woodbine House. (Telephone: 1-800-843-732.)
Metzger, L. (1993). Barry's Sister. New York: Puffin. (A book for children ages 10 and up.
The story line is about a child with cerebral palsy and his sister.) (Telephone:
Weiss, S. (1993). Each of Us Remembers: Parents of Children with Cerebral Palsy Answer
Your Questions. Washington, DC: United Cerebral Palsy Associations, Inc. (See address and
telephone number below.)
United Cerebral Palsy Associations, Inc.
1660 L Street N.W., Suite 700
Washington, D.C. 20036
(202) 842-1266 (V/TT); (800) 872-5827 (V/TT)
Independent Living Research Utilization Project (ILRU)
The Institute for Rehabilitation and Research
2323 South Sheppard, Suite 1000
Houston, TX 77019
(713) 520-0232; (713) 520-5136 (TT)
National Easter Seal Society, Inc.
230 West Monroe Street, Suite 1800
Chicago, IL 60606
(312) 726-6200; (312) 726-4258 (TT)
National Rehabilitation Information Center (NARIC)
8455 Colesville Road
Silver Spring, MD 20910-3319
(301) 588-9284 (TT/Voice); (800) 346-2742
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