Cerebral Palsy is a term used to refer to a group of disorders that result in physical disability with regard to body movements. Depending upon the area of the brain that is damaged, it is classified as ataxic, spastic, dyskinetic/athetoid and mixed. It may occur in about 3 out of every 1000 children. While causes are not fully understood, the disorder could be due to genetic problems, premature birth, brain infection or strokes.
Recognizing Cerebral Palsy
Children born prematurely or with a low birth weight are thought to be at greater risk of this disorder. Signs and symptoms of CP may not be evident at birth and may start to appear during the first 3 to 5 years of life.
The first sign of cerebral palsy in an infant could be slower or delayed developmental milestones such as rolling over, sitting, walking etc. Remember however all delayed milestones are not due to CP; most of the time they may not be cause for concern.
Impairment of motor functions, problems with balance, reflexes and posture could also be warning signs. There could be abnormality of muscle tone – either too stiff or too flaccid. There could be a lack of coordination and tremors or involuntary movements. Speech and language problems are also common.
Child could favor one side of the body over the other, persistently using only that side. The child may also drool excessively and have trouble with swallowing normally. Mental retardation may sometimes, but not always accompany CP.
Dealing with Cerebral Palsy
This is not a progressive disease so the condition will not worsen and deteriorate over time. However if not treated, physical growth of the child could mean greater muscle stiffness and physical limitations. So, proper diagnosis and treatment of this condition are vital, because the earlier treatment starts, the more effective it will be. Treatment is usually targeted helping a person with CP live a more functional and effective life.
Therapy can help improve range of motions and can also help reduce spasticity. The child can learn how to accomplish tasks that they find challenging and caregivers learn how to ease the process for the child.
Physiotherapy can build strength, improve gait, maintain muscle tone and prevent dislocation of joints.
Occupational therapy can help an individual with CP function independently to the extent possible. Speech therapy can help a child communicate better so that they are better understood.
Medication such as Botox injections can also help to relax muscles and reduce rigidity. Surgery could also help in some cases and may be considered.