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History of Cerebral Palsy
and Origin of Cerebral Palsy

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.

Who discovered cerebral palsy?

The origin and history of cerebral palsy includes a number of great minds, generous hearts, and dedicated people striving to improve the lives of individuals with disabilities. In the mid-1800s, Dr. William John Little pioneered the study of cerebral palsy using his own childhood disability as an inspiration. His innovative techniques are still helping people today.

Sir William Osler, considered an important figure in furthering modern medicine, wrote the first book on cerebral palsy. Dr. Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, proposed the idea that cerebral palsy might result from abnormal fetal development – decades before the medical field embraced the concept.

Other individuals and organizations made historical strides toward helping those with cerebral palsy, as well. At different times, the U.S. government passed crucial legislation to modernize care and further the rights of individuals with a disability. In 1963, President John F. Kennedy signed the Community Mental Health Act, which promoted community-based care as an alternative to institutionalization. On July 26, 1990, President George H. W. Bush passed the Americans with Disabilities Act, prohibiting employers from discriminating against people with a disability.

Innovators continued to bring cerebral palsy into the national consciousness, as well. Marie Killilea wrote a book, titled “Karen,” a novel about her daughter’s life with cerebral palsy. The book which is still in print today hit the New York Times bestseller list in 1952. Isabelle and Leonard Goldenson and Ethel and Jack Hausman were also parents of children with cerebral palsy. Both couples were giants in their respective industries and well-known philanthropists who used their influence to found the organization that eventually became the United Cerebral Palsy Association (UCP).

Breakthroughs in medicine, such as blood typing, the use of phototherapy to cure jaundice, and the development of a vaccine for rubella helped prevent cerebral palsy, and continue to do so today. Meanwhile, technological advances allow people to redefine what it means to function with disability.

  • baby’s feet touching father’s feet while being carried down a path


    Every effort to treat or eradicate a medical condition has its heroes, and cerebral palsy is no exception. Committed individuals inside and outside of the medical field have worked hard and enjoyed incredible victories in not only the fight to find new remedies for the condition, but also in the effort to create a better world for people with special needs.
    Pioneers »

  • researcher looking at test tube


    Efforts to find medical treatments, or create more opportunities for people with cerebral palsy, have been a long road paved with ups and downs. Through the years, however, small discoveries have given way to bigger opportunities, and advancements have ensured those efforts will continue into the future.
    Timeline »

  • teen in wheelchair at crosswalk


    It’s hard to imagine that there was a time when people with special needs had few rights, but the approval of legislation in all aspects of disability has re-crafted how people with disabilities are treated under the law, They are provided more opportunities to live a vital, productive life than ever before in human history.
    Legislation »


History and Origin of Cerebral Palsy

For other sources with general information on the history and origin of cerebral palsy, MyChild recommends the following:

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    What is cerebral palsy?

    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 of Cerebral Palsy »

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    What is the cause of cerebral palsy?

    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 of Cerebral Palsy »

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    What affect does cerebral palsy have on individuals?

    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 of Cerebral Palsy »


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