Cerebral Palsy Infographic - Cerebral Palsy: a Guide for Parents

Being the parent of a child with cerebral palsy is as challenging as it is rewarding. You want the best for your child, but, unfortunately, cerebral palsy is a complex and often misunderstood condition. Whether you have just received a cerebral palsy diagnosis for your child or are an existing caregiver, getting the latest facts and information on this condition can help you plan for the future.

What is Cerebral Palsy?

Cerebral palsy, or CP, is the most common motor disability in young children. Around 17 million people live with cerebral palsy worldwide. The characteristics of cerebral palsy include impaired muscle coordination, abnormal muscle tone, and problems with voluntary or involuntary movements.

Cerebral palsy stems from damage or malformation of the brain during development. Brain damage before, during, or after birth can cause cerebral palsy. Cerebral palsy is a permanent condition with no known cure, but it does not get worse with age. Treatments can help children with cerebral palsy improve their physical, mental, and social states.

Classifications of Cerebral Palsy

Classifying cerebral palsy can be difficult. Medical experts have not agreed upon a single universal classification system. Therefore, parents may encounter numerous types of classifications, including ranking a child’s condition by severity and the Gross Motor Function Classification System. Experts do agree, however, that there are three main types of cerebral palsy:

  1. Spastic. Damage to the motor cortex. The most common type, affecting around 80% of children with cerebral palsy. Children with spastic cerebral palsy may have stiff and jerky muscle movements, as well as increased muscle tone.
  2. Athetoid. Damage to the basal ganglia. Between 10% to 15% of children with cerebral palsy have the athetoid type. Athetoid cerebral palsy can come with involuntary movements, as well as trouble swallowing and with speech. It can make basic movements difficult or impossible.
  3. Ataxic. Damage to the cerebellum. Only around 6% of cerebral palsy cases are ataxic. Ataxic cerebral palsy usually causes weak muscles, poor coordination and balance, and problems with depth perception. Children may be unable to hold their heads steady or walk easily.

A child may also have “mixed” cerebral palsy, or a combination of the three types. Children with mixed cerebral palsy may have suffered damage to multiple parts of their brains. Associated symptoms can take the form of any of the symptoms listed above for different types. Understanding your child’s cerebral palsy classification can help with treatment options.

Diagnosing Cerebral Palsy

Children with more severe cerebral palsy may receive diagnoses early, before 12 months of age. Milder cases may take up to three years to diagnose. A physician will assess a child’s development in infancy, checking for potential signs of the condition, such as missed milestones, difficulty sitting/walking, trouble feeding, seizures, lethargy, and contracted muscles. Upon diagnosis, the physician will choose the most appropriate intervention and treatment plans.

Treating Cerebral Palsy

Cerebral palsy may not have a cure, but comprehensive treatment plans can improve motor function, help control symptoms, reduce pain, encourage independence, and improve a child’s quality of life. Common treatment options include:

  • Mobility aids. Children may need braces, walkers, or wheelchairs to aid mobility.
  • Medications. Often to control pain or associative disorders such as epilepsy.
  • Surgeries. Surgery may treat muscle spasticity and improve flexibility.
  • Physical therapy. Can improve muscle tone, strength, and walking abilities.
  • Occupational therapy. Helps children perform daily tasks more independently.
  • Speech therapy. Can help improve speech, chewing, and swallowing.

With early intervention, proper medical care, and a team approach to treatment, a child with cerebral palsy can improve mobility, foster better social and communication skills, and lead a long and fulfilling life.

Risk Factors for Developing Cerebral Palsy

Complications or trauma to the baby during pregnancy, delivery, or shortly after birth can cause cerebral palsy. Certain factors can increase a child’s risk of developing this condition, including:

  • Premature birth and low birthweight. Babies born before 37 weeks and who weigh less than 3.33 pounds are more likely to develop cerebral palsy.
  • Infections. Maternal infections during pregnancy can manifest into brain damage for the fetus, including rubella, herpes, cytomegalovirus, and toxoplasmosis.
  • Severe jaundice. Jaundice, or an excess of bilirubin in the blood, can cause brain damage after birth if left untreated.

Medical malpractice also increases an infant’s risk of developing cerebral palsy. For example, failure to monitor a child’s vital signs during birth could lead to untreated asphyxia, or lack of oxygen to the brain.

Legal Options

A negligent physician or obstetrician could cause a child’s cerebral palsy. Estimates connect around 10% of cerebral palsy cases to malpractice-related birth injuries. Asphyxia during labor and delivery, improper emergency intervention during a difficult birth, improper use of birth-assisting tools, and injuries to the infant during or after delivery could all cause brain damage and cerebral palsy.

If you believe medical negligence caused your child’s cerebral palsy, you may be eligible for financial compensation through a civil malpractice claim. Discuss your case with an attorney.