Cerebral Palsy FAQs

Cerebral palsy, or “CP,” is caused by a brain injury to a child during pregnancy, birth, or early childhood. Cerebral palsy is not a disease and is not inherited genetically. Because CP results from brain injury, many parents are caught off guard, unsure about what has happened to their child and how best to care for him or her. If you know or suspect that your child has cerebral palsy, you need to know what to expect and where to turn for help. This brief Q/A sheet should put you on the right track.

How and when do you know if a child has cerebral palsy?

Complications during birth, low birth weight, jaundice, and other warning signs may signal to a doctor that a child has cerebral palsy, but a diagnosis is usually not made until after the child has begun to develop. Parents are often the first to recognize problems in their child’s development. The child may have decreased or increased muscle tone or be slow to rollover, sit up, crawl, or walk. Most children with cerebral palsy are diagnosed with the condition before the age of three.

Will my child’s condition get worse?

Cerebral palsy is not a progressive condition. Latent problems may become apparent as the child ages, but the condition itself will not worsen. In fact, doctors see worsening symptoms as sign that a child has another condition, not CP.

How old will my child live to be?

Cerebral palsy is not considered a life threatening condition. Many patients, especially those with access to modern medical treatments, have normal life spans. The severity of a patient’s condition and the amount of assistance he or she receives may have an effect on his or her life expectancy. Although there is no cure for cerebral palsy (as it is not a disease), therapy can reduce the condition’s effects and help patients live healthy lives.

What medical treatments are available to help kids with cerebral palsy?

Although there is no cure, many treatments for cerebral palsy can help those with the condition to overcome obstacles. Physical therapy can prevent atrophy in the muscles and help patients control movements; speech therapy can help with speech and muscle coordination within the mouth; and occupational therapy helps patients develop the skills necessary to live independently. Drugs and surgical procedures may also be used to manage side effects.

Could my child’s case of cerebral palsy have been prevented?

Because cerebral palsy results from brain injury, it is often preventable. However, in the majority of cerebral palsy cases it is difficult to determine how or when the brain injury occurred. Visiting a doctor regularly during pregnancy is a very important step in identifying cerebral palsy risk factors such as Rh incompatibility, bacterial infection, or jaundice.

Is cerebral palsy genetic?

Cerebral palsy occurs as a result of brain injury. It is not passed on genetically, and it is not contagious.

I think my child’s brain injury was caused by medical negligence. How can I find out if I have a case?

If you are concerned that your child’s condition was caused by medical negligence you should consult with an experienced birth injury attorney.

My child has been diagnosed with cerebral palsy. Does this mean that he or she will be mentally handicapped?

Cerebral palsy does not cause mental impairment, but the brain injury behind CP may cause other problems as well. Approximately two-thirds of all cerebral palsy patients suffer, to some degree, from learning disorders.

What sort of emotional support will my child and I need?

Ensuring that you and your child both receive the emotional support you need is essential. Your child may feel frustrated, lonely, and misunderstood. You may feel frazzled, isolated, and afraid. Meeting with a counselor to talk through problems can be beneficial. In addition, it is worthwhile to seek help from members of your community who have faced similar difficulties. Strong relationships with friends and family can also be helpful. Communicating frustrations honestly can help those who are close to you understand what struggles you and your child are facing so that they can respond helpfully.

What are the different types of cerebral palsy?

There are four different kinds of cerebral palsy: spastic CP, ataxic CP, athetoid CP, and mixed CP. Ninety percent of all cerebral palsy cases result from brain damage a child incurred before birth or during the birthing process, and ten percent of all cerebral palsy cases result from a brain injury incurred during early childhood.

What can I do to protect my child during a seizure?

To protect your child during a seizure, lay him or her on the floor and clear away any objects that are in the way. Do not try to restrain your child. Instead, wait until the seizure has passed and carefully check to make sure he or she is breathing normally and has not been injured. To prevent seizure-related injuries, be aware of where your child is at all times, and monitor bath and shower times carefully. If your child enjoys helping in the kitchen, cook on the back burners and turn stovetop handles toward the center of the oven, where they cannot be bumped. Be aware of any situations that trigger seizures, and be sure to inform caretakers on how to respond if your child has a seizure.

Will my child be able to go to school?

Children with cerebral palsy do attend school, but they may require extra assistance throughout the day. To prepare for your child’s education, contact your local school district.

Can kids with cerebral palsy play sports?

Kids with cerebral palsy can definitely play sports and take part in recreational activities! Not only are sports and hobbies fun, they are also a great way to encourage physical activity and social interaction. United Cerebral Palsy has compiled an excellent resource on sports, therapeutic activities, and hobbies that kids with cerebral palsy can take part in.

Will my child be able to live on his or her own one day?

Many people with cerebral palsy are able to live independently as adults, though they may require assistance with some tasks and chores. People with cerebral palsy are able to work, have children, travel, and live very full lives. However, the degree of your child’s condition and the amount of assistance he or she requires may limit independence somewhat. Occupational therapy can help increase your child’s level of freedom.

What information should I give to someone who will be watching my child?

It is very important to provide thorough information to anyone who will be watching your child. You may want to consider writing this information down in advance and saving it. In addition to your contact number, include information about seizures, meal times, ways to communicate, grooming and bathing, medications, and favorite games and activities.

I’d like to meet other people who have children with CP. Are there any support groups or playgroups in my community?

There are a variety of support groups and playgroups available to parents and children with cerebral palsy. You can find these groups by contacting your city’s community center, school district, or local United Cerebral Palsy (UCP) office. The support of other families who are facing similar problems can be very encouraging.

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