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Cerebral Palsy (cont.)

What Happens

All people with cerebral palsy (CP) have some problems with body movement and posture, but many babies do not show signs of CP at birth. Parents and caregivers may notice the first signs of CP, such as the baby not rolling over, sitting, crawling, or walking at the expected ages.

Signs of CP may become more obvious as the child grows. Some developmental problems may not appear until after a baby's first year. The brain injury that causes CP does not get worse over time, but its effects can appear, change, or become more severe as the child gets older.

The specific effects of CP depend on its type and severity, the level of mental impairment, and whether other complications develop or other medical conditions are present.

  • The type of CP and how much of the body that is affected will determine a child's mobility.
    • Most people with CP have a type of spastic cerebral palsy. This can affect the whole body but may only affect parts of the body in some children. For example, a child with spastic cerebral palsy may develop symptoms mostly in one leg or one side of the body. Most children usually learn ways to accommodate for their handicaps. Some people can live on their own, and others live and work in situations that provide some level of assistance. When both legs are affected, children can move around with the help of a scooter board (a device used to self-propel while lying down), modified stroller, wheelchair, or other special equipment.
    • Total body cerebral palsy causes the most severe problems. Severe spastic CP and athetoid (dyskinetic) CP are types of total body CP. Many of those affected are not able to take care of themselves, either because of severe physical disabilities or intellectual disability. But some people can live on their own with the help of family members and/or health care aides.
  • Complications, such as seizures, and other long-term physical effects of CP can be difficult to predict until a child is 1 to 3 years old. But sometimes such predictions are not possible until a child reaches school age when learning, communication skills, and other abilities can be measured. The amount of help and supervision needed depends on the number and severity of problems.
  • The severity of mental impairment, if any, is a strong predictor of daily functioning. A little more than half of people who have CP have some type of intellectual disability. Children with spastic quadriplegia usually have the most severe impairment.
  • Other medical conditions, such as vision or hearing problems, are often associated with CP. Sometimes these conditions are known right away, and in other cases they are not detected until a child gets older.

Also, just like people with normal physical development, people with CP have social and emotional concerns throughout their lives. Because their physical limitations may add to these concerns, people with CP need the awareness and consideration of others.

Most children with cerebral palsy live to adulthood and have a somewhat shorter-than-normal life span. A lot depends on what type of CP it is, how severe it is, and what other problems arise from CP. Most adults with the mild or moderate form—and some with the severe form—live independently and have jobs. Opportunities for independent living and employment for adults with CP have improved. These opportunities are a result of better home support services and advances in technology, such as computers to assist with speech, powered wheelchairs, and other devices.

eMedicineHealth Medical Reference from Healthwise

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