Cerebral palsy is a blanket term commonly referred to as “CP,” and is described by loss or impairment of motor function, but cerebral palsy is actually caused by brain damage. The brain damage may be caused by abnormal development before birth, or by injury that occurs during or immediately after birth. Those with cerebral palsy were most likely born with the condition, although some acquire it later.
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 oromotor (sucking, chewing, swallowing, speech articulation and non-verbal facial communication) functioning.
It was once thought that cerebral palsy was caused by complications during the birthing process. While this does happen, it is now widely agreed that birthing complications account for only a small percentage, an estimated 10%, of cerebral palsy cases. Current research suggests the majority of cerebral palsy cases result from abnormal brain development or brain injury prior to birth or during labor and delivery. Accidents, abuse, medical malpractice, negligence, infections and injury are some known risk factors that may lead to cerebral palsy.
An individual with cerebral palsy will likely show signs of physical impairment. However, the type of movement disorder, the location and number of limbs involved, as well as the extent of impairment, will vary from one individual to another. It can affect arms, legs, and even the face; it can affect one limb, several, or all. Cerebral palsy affects a person’s ability to control muscles. Muscles can contract too much, too little, or all at the same time. Limbs can be stiff and forced into painful, awkward positions. Fluctuating muscle contractions can make limbs tremble, shake or writhe.
Balance, posture and coordination can also be affected by cerebral palsy. Tasks such as walking, sitting, or tying shoes may be difficult for some, while others might have difficulty grasping objects. Other complications, such as intellectual impairment, seizures, and vision or hearing impairment also commonly accompany cerebral palsy.