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Cerebral Palsy (CP)

Cerebral palsy is the name for a group of lifelong conditions that affect movement and co-ordination. It's caused by a problem with the brain that develops before, during or soon after birth.

Symptoms of cerebral palsy

The symptoms of cerebral palsy are not usually obvious just after a baby is born. They normally become noticeable during the first 2 or 3 years of a child's life.

Symptoms can include:

  • delays in reaching development milestones – for example, not sitting by 8 months or not walking by 18 months
  • seeming too stiff or too floppy
  • weak arms or legs
  • fidgety, jerky or clumsy movements
  • random, uncontrolled movements
  • walking on tiptoes
  • a range of other problems – such as swallowing difficulties, speaking problems, vision problems and learning disabilities

The severity of symptoms can vary significantly. Some people only have minor problems, while others may be severely disabled.

Outlook for cerebral palsy

Cerebral palsy affects each person differently and it can be difficult to predict what the outlook will be for you or your child.

Generally speaking:

  • most children live into adult life and some can live for many decades
  • the condition may limit your child's activities and independence, although many people go on to lead full, independent lives
  • many children go to a mainstream school, but some may have special educational needs and benefit from attending a special school
  • the original problem with the brain does not get worse over time, but the condition can put a lot of strain on the body and cause problems, such as painful joints, in later life
  • the daily challenges of living with cerebral palsy can be difficult to cope with, which can lead to problems such as depression in some people

Your brain
Injury to the brain normally occurs while it is developing, from before birth right up to age 5. When the brain is damaged, the messages it sends to different parts of the body get jumbled up or lost. This can affect movement, learning, speaking and every part of the way the body works.

Your body
Some people may use a wheelchair or other equipment to help them move around. CP can make it difficult to judge where steps and spaces start and finish. People can also be more emotional and panicky or find it difficult to switch off and relax.

Your muscles
The muscles have to work harder so people may get tired more easily. Pain and spasms in people's muscles may disturb their sleep. It can also make speaking, chewing and swallowing difficult. Some people may dribble or need food pureed.

Talking
Talking can be difficult, because muscles in the throat can be affected. Some people use a communication aid to help them speak. This means they may need more time to respond. If you do not understand, it's OK to ask someone to repeat what they are saying.

Learning
Around a third of people with CP find things difficult to understand. It can make it harder for sensory information, like light or sound, to get to the brain, and it can make abstract ideas like letters and numbers trickier.

(All links open a new page)

If you or your child have been diagnosed with cerebral palsy, you may find it useful to contact a support group for information and advice.

Scope is the main UK charity for people with cerebral palsy and their families. They offer:

CP Teens UK, a website for teenagers and young people with cerebral palsy

Last updated: 25/11/2020

Useful links

CP Teens

CP Teens

Scope

Scope