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.

Those with cerebral palsy are most likely born with the condition, although some acquire the condition at birth or shortly thereafter depending on cause. 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.

Cerebral Palsy in Children

Studies over the past several decades have provided the following statistics about cerebral palsy, commonly quoted in the United States:

  • About 764,000 children and adults currently have cerebral palsy
  • About 500,000 children under age of 18 currently have cerebral palsy
  • About two to three children out of every 1,000 have cerebral palsy (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)
  • About 10,000 babies born each year will develop cerebral palsy
  • Around 8,000 to 10,000 babies and infants are diagnosed per year with cerebral palsy
  • Around 1,200 to 1,500 preschool-aged children are diagnosed per year with cerebral palsy

To learn more about prevalence and incidence of cerebral palsy, Prevalence and Incidence of Cerebral Palsy

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