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About Cerebral Palsy

What is cerebral palsy?

While cerebral palsy (pronounced seh-ree-brel pawl-zee) is a blanket term commonly described by loss or impairment of motor function, cerebral palsy is actually caused by brain damage.

The brain damage is caused by brain injury or abnormal development of the brain that occurs while a child’s brain is still developing — before birth, during birth, or immediately after.

Cerebral palsy affects body movement, muscle control, muscle coordination, muscle tone, reflex, posture and balance. It can also impact fine motor skills, gross motor skills and oral motor functioning.

Cerebral palsy in children

Signs and symptoms of cerebral palsy may not always be apparent at birth. The child will likely experience a delay in development and growth milestones.

About two to three children out of every 1,000 have cerebral palsy – studies in the United States studies have yielded rates as low as 2.3 per 1,000 children to as high as 3.6 per 1,000 children.

Today, although there is no cure for cerebral palsy, but the condition can be managed and individuals with cerebral palsy can live a long, healthy and quality life. To learn about the various aspects of cerebral palsy, click on the links below.

newborn baby girl in pink cap sleeping


Cerebral palsy is considered a neurological disorder caused by a non-progressive brain injury or malformation that occurs while the child’s brain is under development. Cerebral palsy primarily affects body movement and muscle coordination. Though cerebral palsy can be defined, having cerebral palsy does not define the person that has the condition.
Definition »

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History and Origin

The origin of cerebral palsy and history of cerebral palsy includes a number of great minds, generous hearts, and skilled technicians striving to improve the lives of individuals with motor impairment. Throughout history, breakthroughs in research, medicine, technology and legislation have occurred. Today, the work continues.
History and Origin »


Prevalence and Incidence

Cerebral palsy is the most common of all childhood disabilities, affecting about two to three live births out of 1,000 in the United States. To truly understand how widespread the condition is among children and adults in the United States – or in a particular community – it helps to understand the difference between incidence and prevalence.
Prevalence and Incidence »

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When a child is born with cerebral palsy, the reasons are often because of preventable events that occur prior to birth, during the delivery process, or immediately after birth. Many work diligently towards preventing cerebral palsy by identifying risks, developing prevention measures, and implementing educational campaigns.
Prevention »

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Risk Factors

Cerebral palsy risk factors are events, substances or circumstances that increase the risk of developing cerebral palsy. A risk factor does not ensure a child will develop cerebral palsy; it means chances are higher than if that risk factor was not present. The absence of risk factors does not ensure that a child will not develop cerebral palsy.
Risk Factors »

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Signs and Symptoms

Reaching the expected developmental benchmarks of infancy and childhood – sitting, rolling over, crawling, standing and walking – are a matter of great joy for parents, but what if a child’s developmental timetable seems delayed? There are many tell-tale signs that a child may have cerebral palsy, but those factors can be indicative of many conditions.
Signs and Symptoms »

doctor diagnosing baby's symptoms

Diagnosis and Tests

Parents are often disheartened to learn that there is no singular test that will accurately diagnose a child with cerebral palsy. Once a round of medical evaluations are initiated in order to form a diagnosis, parents prepare for a long and sometimes frustrating process that will, in time, provide answers about a child’s condition.
Diagnosis and Tests »

newborn in NICU


Cerebral palsy is caused by brain injury or brain malformation that occurs before, during, or immediately after birth while the infant’s brain is under development. But how a brain injury affects a child’s motor functioning and intellectual abilities is highly dependent on the nature of a brain injury, where the damage occurs, and how severe it is.
Cause »

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Types and Forms

Several cerebral palsy classification systems exist today to define the type and form of cerebral palsy an individual has. The classification is complicated by the wide range of clinical presentations and degrees of activity limitation that exist. Knowing the severity, location and type of cerebral palsy your child has will help to coordinate care and fund treatment.
Types and Forms »

father and son laughing

Associative Conditions

Cerebral palsy affects muscle tone, gross and fine motor functions, balance, coordination, and posture. These are considered primary conditions of cerebral palsy. There are associative conditions, like seizures and intellectual impairment, which are common in individuals with cerebral palsy. And, there are co-mitigating factors that co-exist with cerebral palsy, but are unrelated to it.
Associative Conditions »

two doctors examining a happy baby


Treating cerebral palsy is almost as complex as the condition is, and there’s no cookie-cutter approach because each individual is affected differently. Although the brain injury that causes cerebral palsy cannot be healed, the resulting physical impairment can be managed with a wide range of treatments and therapies. Although there is no universal protocol developed for all cases, a person’s form of cerebral palsy, extent of impairment, and severity level help to determine care.
Treatment »

baby receiving a baby massage on his feet


A person’s ability to transcend his or her physical limits is in no small part due to the kinds of therapies that are used to fine-tune his or her abilities. Therapy fosters functionality, mobility, fitness, and independence. The types of therapies vary based on a person’s unique needs, form of cerebral palsy, extent of impairment, and associative conditions. Therapy can also help parents and caregivers.
Therapy »

boy smelling flower


The first thing a parent will hear after a physician says, “Your child has cerebral palsy,” will likely be the words, “At present, there is no cure.” However, the fact that there is no cure does not mean that the diagnosis is dire. Persons with cerebral palsy have impairment, but are considered healthy. By managing cerebral palsy and maximizing potential, individuals with cerebral palsy live active, engaged, and quality lives.
Cure »

family picnic with mother, father and baby

Life Expectancy

Most children with cerebral palsy can live long, happy, quality lives. Admittedly, their care may involve more visits to the doctor, require therapy or medications, and perhaps surgery. They may be evaluated for early intervention, special education services and assistive technology. The severity level, as well as improper management of his or her conditions, may put the child at risk for diminished life span.
Life Expectancy »

couple working through finances


Although cerebral palsy was identified more than a century ago, little has been published about cerebral palsy’s economic impact on the nation, or about the average lifetime expense to the family when a child is born with cerebral palsy. The expense associated with managing cerebral palsy is significant, however health insurance, financial planning, government assistance and community support are available.
Cost »

family walking through a park in the fall


Although researchers are actively seeking a cure for cerebral palsy, much focus is placed on acquiring an understanding of the condition, identifying risk, determining cause, advancing treatment and implementing preventative measures. Recent studies have focused on eye tracking technology, stem cell treatments, repairing damaged brain cells, pain management, bio-medical advancements, assistive technology and surveillance.
Research »

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