What is cerebral palsy?
Cerebral palsy is a lifelong physical condition that affects movement, posture and co-ordination. It is usually diagnosed at birth or in early childhood. Cerebral palsy is usually caused by an injury to the brain before, during, or shortly after birth, such as a lack of oxygen or illness. Each individual with cerebral palsy will be affected differently, with the effects varying from mild to severe. For some people, cerebral palsy will affect them physically, making muscle movement more difficult. Others may also be affected by seizures, epilepsy or difficulties with speech and language.
Cerebral palsy is not a learning disability, but some people with cerebral palsy might have a learning disability. There are three main types of cerebral palsy, though many people will have a mixture of these types.
- Spastic cerebral palsy
- Dyskinetic cerebral palsy
- Ataxic cerebral palsy
- Mixed cerebral palsy
Signs of cerebral palsy
Symptoms can vary, and can affect people to differing degrees. They can include: –
- delays in reaching development milestones, eg being unable to walk aged two
- seeming either too stiff or too floppy – or alternating between the two
- weak arms and/or legs
- jerking movements
- walking on tip-toes
Some people with cerebral palsy may also have associated conditions. These can include:
- Learning difficulties
- Learning disabilities
- Communication difficulties
- Hearing difficulties
- Feeding difficulties
- Problems with sleeping
- Problems with toileting
- Behavioural issues
- Periventricular leukomalacia
Support for people with cerebral palsy
There is no cure for cerebral palsy, though physiotherapy and speech therapy have been shown to help. But neither is it progressive. This means that while the brain will not heal itself, the injury itself will not get worse – though the effects may become more pronounced over time.
Life expectancy for adults with cerebral palsy who have high health and social care needs has increased however, and is now on a par with people who don’t have cerebral palsy. It is therefore important to find a support provider that takes a person-centred approach to support, focused on participation and integration in society.
- Hft supports adults with learning disabilities including those with cerebral palsy to live the best life possible. Contact your local service to discuss support options.
- If you’re a family carer for someone with cerebral palsy, Hft’s Family Carer Support Service can help with guidance and advice on support options and some of the benefits that are available.
- Scope provides more information and guidance for people with cerebral palsy, their families, and for professionals.
- NHS Choices provides a range of information and links to further useful resources.