What is Cerebral Palsy?

What is Cerebral Palsy?

When doctors told us that it was likely Mikey would have Cerebral Palsy (CP) I really didn’t know what that meant. I wanted to write this post to try and educate more people about what CP is, how it affects people and why it’s caused. Please note that I am not a professional, this is just the information I have gathered on my journey.

Cerebral Palsy is pronounced seh-ree-brel pawl-zee

What is Cerebral Palsy?

CP is a physical disability that affects movement, posture and muscle coordination. CP is a very general term that refers to a range of physical disorders affecting a person’s ability to move. CP affects a persons ability to move in a coordinated and purposeful way.

CP is the most common congenital (existing at or before birth) disorders of childhood. Currently 34,000 Australians are living with CP.

What Causes Cerebral Palsy?

Cerebral palsy is the result of a combination of events either before, during or after birth that can lead to an injury in a baby’s developing brain. CP does not mean there is something wrong with a babies limbs, they are typically structurally sound, the challenge is how a persons brain can coordinate those limbs to move. For most babies born with cerebral palsy, the cause is unknown. This is the case with Mikey.

In 13 out of 14 cases of CP in Australia, the brain injury leading to CP occurs either while the mother is pregnant or before 1 month of age. It was once thought that CP was caused by complications during the birth. While this does happen, it is now widely agreed that birthing complications account for only a small percentage, an estimated 10 percent, of CP cases.

The important thing for parents to know is that it’s not their fault. I felt guilty for a long time, I thought I had done something wrong but I hadn’t. It has taken me a long time to accept that, read more about that here.

How does Cerebral Palsy affect people?

CP looks different for everyone. One person with CP could run around and look like they have no disability whereas someone else with CP may be unable to use their hands or another may be unable to walk. CP can affect body movement, muscle control, muscle coordination, muscle tone, reflex, posture and balance. How a person is physically affected, the location and number of limbs involved, as well as the extent of impairment, will vary from one person to another. It can affect a persons arms, legs, and even the face; it can affect one limb, several, or all.

CP affects muscles and a person’s ability to control them. Muscles can contract too much, too little, or all at the same time. Limbs can be stiff and forced into painful, awkward positions. In my sons case he has high muscle tone so his muscles are stiff and his movements are jerky. Imagine trying to stand when your legs wont easily bend into the right position, it would be very difficult. Some muscles work too much which causes other to not work at all, making it difficult to coordinate a specific movement. People with CP have to work extremely hard to make even the smallest movement possible, they really are mighty!

What are the different types of Cerebral Palsy?

CP is categorised by the way it affects a persons movement, the part of the body affected and how sever the affects are.

  1. Spastic CP — causes stiffness and movement difficulties
  2. Dystonic CP — leads to involuntary and uncontrolled movements
  3. Ataxic CP — causes a problem with balance and depth perception
  4. Mixed Type — combination of some or all of the above
  • Quadraplegia — 4 limbs affected, both arms and legs
  • Diplegia — Both legs affected and possibly arms to a lesser extent
  • Hemiplegia — One side of the body (1 arm and 1 leg) is affected

Mikey’s main diagnosis is spastic quad CP and he also has other disabilities.

People who have CP often have other health problems such as visual, learning, hearing, speech, epilepsy and intellectual impairments. This is because the damage to their brain means they cannot process information the same way as others. For example Mikey has hearing loss. His ears are structurally fine but he cannot process sound the same way I do.

People with Cerebral Palsy can live happy fulfilled lives

CP is a permanent life-long condition, but with therapies improvements can be made. When an early diagnosis is given doctors cannot tell you what the child will or will not be able to do, only time will tell. I think it is important to dream big for your little one to give them every opportunity to achieve. If you think they won’t walk you won’t work as hard at it, so expect them to do everything and they might just surprise you!

Helpful Fact Sheets

What is Cerebral Palsy?
Cerebral Palsy Diagnosis


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