On This Page
- Types of Cerebral Palsy
- Early Signs
- Screening and Diagnosis
- Treatments and Intervention Services
- Causes and Risk Factors
- If You’re Concerned
Cerebral palsy (CP) is a group of disorders that affect a person’s ability to move and maintain balance and posture. CP is the most common motor disability in childhood. Cerebral means having to do with the brain. Palsy means weakness or problems with using the muscles. CP is caused by abnormal brain development or damage to the developing brain that affects a person’s ability to control his or her muscles.
The symptoms of CP vary from person to person. A person with severe CP might need to use special equipment to be able to walk, or might not be able to walk at all and might need lifelong care. A person with mild CP, on the other hand, might walk a little awkwardly, but might not need any special help. CP does not get worse over time, though the exact symptoms can change over a person’s lifetime.
All people with CP have problems with movement and posture. Many also have related conditions such as intellectual disability; seizures; problems with vision, hearing, or speech; changes in the spine (such as scoliosis); or joint problems (such as contractures).
Doctors classify CP according to the main type of movement disorder involved. Depending on which areas of the brain are affected, one or more of the following movement disorders can occur:
- Stiff muscles (spasticity)
- Uncontrollable movements (dyskinesia)
- Poor balance and coordination (ataxia)
There are four main types of CP:
Spastic Cerebral Palsy
The most common type of CP is spastic CP. Spastic CP affects about 80% of people with CP.
People with spastic CP have increased muscle tone. This means their muscles are stiff and, as a result, their movements can be awkward. Spastic CP usually is described by what parts of the body are affected:
- Spastic diplegia/diparesis―In this type of CP, muscle stiffness is mainly in the legs, with the arms less affected or not affected at all. People with spastic diplegia might have difficulty walking because tight hip and leg muscles cause their legs to pull together, turn inward, and cross at the knees (also known as scissoring).
- Spastic hemiplegia/hemiparesis―This type of CP affects only one side of a person’s body; usually the arm is more affected than the leg.
- Spastic quadriplegia/quadriparesis―Spastic quadriplegia is the most severe form of spastic CP and affects all four limbs, the trunk, and the face. People with spastic quadriparesis usually cannot walk and often have other developmental disabilities such as intellectual disability; seizures; or problems with vision, hearing, or speech.
Dyskinetic Cerebral Palsy (also includes athetoid, choreoathetoid, and dystonic cerebral palsies)
People with dyskinetic CP have problems controlling the movement of their hands, arms, feet, and legs, making it difficult to sit and walk. The movements are uncontrollable and can be slow and writhing or rapid and jerky. Sometimes the face and tongue are affected and the person has a hard time sucking, swallowing, and talking. A person with dyskinetic CP has muscle tone that can change (varying from too tight to too loose) not only from day to day, but even during a single day.
Ataxic Cerebral Palsy
People with ataxic CP have problems with balance and coordination. They might be unsteady when they walk. They might have a hard time with quick movements or movements that need a lot of control, like writing. They might have a hard time controlling their hands or arms when they reach for something.
Mixed Cerebral Palsy
Some people have symptoms of more than one type of CP. The most common type of mixed CP is spastic-dyskinetic CP.
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The signs of CP vary greatly because there are many different types and levels of disability. The main sign that a child might have CP is a delay reaching motor or movement milestones (such as rolling over, sitting, standing, or walking). Following are some other signs of possible CP. It is important to note that some children without CP also might have some of these signs.
In a Baby Younger Than 6 Months of Age
- His head lags when you pick him up while he’s lying on his back
- He feels stiff
- He feels floppy
- When held cradled in your arms, he seems to overextend his back and neck, constantly acting as if he is pushing away from you
- When you pick him up, his legs get stiff and they cross or scissor
In a Baby Older Than 6 Months of Age
- She doesn’t roll over in either direction
- She cannot bring her hands together
- She has difficulty bringing her hands to her mouth
- She reaches out with only one hand while keeping the other fisted
In a Baby Older Than 10 Months of Age
- He crawls in a lopsided manner, pushing off with one hand and leg while dragging the opposite hand and leg
- He scoots around on his buttocks or hops on his knees, but does not crawl on all fours
Tell your child’s doctor or nurse if you notice any of these signs. Learn more about developmental milestones that children should reach from birth to 5 years of age
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Diagnosing CP at an early age is important to the well-being of children and their families. Diagnosing CP can take several steps:
Developmental monitoring (also called surveillance) means tracking a child’s growth and development over time. If any concerns about the child’s development are raised during monitoring, then a developmental screening test should be given as soon as possible.
During developmental screening a short test is given to see if the child has specific developmental delays, such as motor or movement delays. If the results of the screening test are cause for concern, then the doctor will make referrals for developmental and medical evaluations.
Developmental and Medical Evaluations
The goal of a developmental evaluation is to diagnose the specific type of disorder that affects a child.
Learn more about screening and diagnosis
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There is no cure for CP, but treatment can improve the lives of those who have the condition. It is important to begin a treatment program as early as possible.
After a CP diagnosis is made, a team of health professionals works with the child and family to develop a plan to help the child reach his or her full potential. Common treatments include medicines; surgery; braces; and physical, occupational, and speech therapy. No single treatment is the best one for all children with CP. Before deciding on a treatment plan, it is important to talk with the child’s doctor to understand all the risks and benefits.
Both early intervention and school-aged services are available through our nation’s special education law—the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Part C of IDEA deals with early intervention services (birth through 36 months of age), while Part B applies to services for school-aged children (3 through 21 years of age). Even if your child has not been diagnosed with CP, he or she may be eligible for IDEA services.
Learn more about IDEA Services
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CP is caused by abnormal development of the brain or damage to the developing brain that affects a child’s ability to control his or her muscles. There are several possible causes of the abnormal development or damage. People used to think that CP was mainly caused by lack of oxygen during the birth process. Now, scientists think that this causes only a small number of CP cases.
The abnormal development of the brain or damage that leads to CP can happen before birth, during birth, within a month after birth, or during the first years of a child’s life, while the brain is still developing. CP related to abnormal development of the brain or damage that occurred before or during birth is calledcongenitalCP. The majority of CP (85%–90%) is congenital. In many cases, the specific cause is not known. A small percentage of CP is caused by abnormal development of the brain or damage that occurs more than 28 days after birth. This is calledacquiredCP, and usually is associated with an infection (such as meningitis) or head injury.
Learn more about causes and risk factors for CP
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If you think your child is not meeting movement milestones or might have CP, contact your doctor or nurse and share your concerns.
If you or your doctor is still concerned, ask for a referral to a specialist who can do a more in-depth evaluation of your child and assist in making a diagnosis.
At the same time, call your state’s public early childhood system to request a free evaluation to find out if your child qualifies for intervention services. This is sometimes called a Child Find evaluation. You do not need to wait for a doctor’s referral or a medical diagnosis to make this call.
Where to call for a free evaluation from the state depends on your child’s age:
- If your child is not yet 3 years old, contact your local early intervention system.
You can find the right contact information for your state by calling the Early Childhood Technical Assistance Center (ECTA) at 919-962-2001 or visit the Early Childhood Technical Assistance Centerexternal icon.
- If your child is 3 years of age or older, contact your local public school system.
Even if your child is not yet old enough for kindergarten or enrolled in a public school, call your local elementary school or board of education and ask to speak with someone who can help you have your child evaluated.
If you’re not sure who to contact, you can call the Early Childhood Technical Assistance Center (ECTA) at 919-962-2001 or visit the Early Childhood Technical Assistance Centerexternal icon.
Learn more about early intervention
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American Academy of Pediatrics. Caring for your baby and young child: Birth to age five. 5th ed. Shelov SP, editor. Elk Grove Village (IL): Bantam Books; 2009.
American Academy of Pediatrics Healthy Children / Cerebral Palsy
American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities
Honeycutt A, Dunlap L, Chen H, Homsi G. Economic costs associated with mental retardation, cerebral palsy, hearing loss, and vision impairment: United States, 2003. MMWR Morb mital Wkly Rep. 2004;53(3): 57-59.
Identifying Infants and Young Children With Developmental Disorders in the Medical Home: An Algorithm for Developmental Surveillance and Screening. Council on Children With Disabilities, Section on Developmental Behavioral Pediatrics, Bright Futures Steering Committee, Medical Home Initiatives for Children With Special Needs Project Advisory Committee. Pediatrics, July 2006.
http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/118/1/405.full.pdf pdf icon[PDF – 930 KB]external icon
March of Dimes. Cerebral Palsy.
My Child Without Limits
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Cerebral Palsy: Hope Through Research. NIH Publication Number 10-159, updated 5/6/10.
Pellegrino, Louis. Cerebral Palsy, in Batshaw ML, Pellegrino L, Roizen NJ (eds.), Children with Disabilities, 6th Edition, Baltimore, MD, Paul H Brookes Publishing Company, 2007, pp 387-408.
Cerebral palsy (CP) is a group of disorders that affect a person's ability to move and maintain balance and posture. CP is the most common motor disability in childhood. Cerebral means having to do with the brain. Palsy means weakness or problems with using the muscles.What is the main cause of cerebral palsy? ›
Cerebral palsy is usually caused by a problem that affects the development of a baby's brain while it's growing in the womb. These include: damage to part of the brain called white matter, possibly as a result of a reduced blood or oxygen supply – this is known as periventricular leukomalacia (PVL).What is the life expectancy of a person with cerebral palsy? ›
Many children with milder forms of cerebral palsy have average survival times similar to those of the general population. Children with mild cerebral palsy have a 99% chance of living to 20 years old, whereas children with severe cerebral palsy have a 40% chance, according to Dr. Ananya Mandal.What are 5 cerebral palsy symptoms? ›
- delays in reaching development milestones – for example, not sitting by 8 months or not walking by 18 months.
- seeming too stiff or too floppy (hypotonia)
- weak arms or legs.
- fidgety, jerky or clumsy movements.
- random, uncontrolled movements.
- muscle spasms.
- shaking hands (tremors)
There is no cure for cerebral palsy, but supportive treatments, medications, and surgery can help many individuals improve their motor skills and ability to communicate with the world. All people with CP have problems with movement and posture.Does cerebral palsy get worse with age? ›
Cerebral palsy is a “non-progressive” disorder. This means that as children get older, their CP will not worsen. While an individual's cerebral palsy will not decline as they get older, there are a few things that can impact their overall health and wellness.What are 3 early signs of cerebral palsy? ›
- Developmental delays. The child is slow to reach milestones such as rolling over, sitting, crawling, and walking. ...
- Abnormal muscle tone. Body parts are floppy or too stiff.
- Abnormal posture.
While some children do not experience pain alongside their cerebral palsy symptoms, many patients experience cerebral palsy pain when they reach adulthood. Around 75% of adults with cerebral palsy experience chronic pain according to the American Academy for Cerebral Palsy and Developmental Medicine.Who is most likely to get cerebral palsy? ›
CP is more common among boys than girls, and more common among black children than among white children. Most (about 75%-85%) children with CP have spastic CP. This means that their muscles are stiff, and as a result, their movements can be awkward. Over half (about 50%-60%) of children with CP can walk independently.Can a child with cerebral palsy talk? ›
Some people with cerebral palsy may not be able to produce any sounds, others may be able to produce sounds but have difficulty controlling their movement enough to produce speech that is clear and understood by others. 1 in 4 people with cerebral palsy cannot talk.
Is Cerebral Palsy a Form of Autism? Cerebral palsy is not a form of autism. According to the Mayo Clinic, cerebral palsy — which develops after the brain suffers severe damage before, during, or shortly after birth — causes problems with muscle control and tone, movement, and posture.At what age is cerebral palsy diagnosed? ›
CP generally is diagnosed during the first or second year after birth. But if a child's symptoms are mild, it is sometimes difficult to make a diagnosis until the child is a few years older.Is cerebral palsy due to brain damage? ›
Cerebral palsy (CP) is caused by abnormal development of the brain or damage to the developing brain that affects a child's ability to control his or her muscles. There are several possible causes of the abnormal development or damage.Does cerebral palsy qualify for disability? ›
Adults with Cerebral Palsy Disability May Qualify for SSI and SSDI Aid. Adults with severe Cerebral Palsy disability may qualify for SSI or SSDI benefits. Most adults who have SSI qualified as children–however it is possible to apply for SSI as an adult even if you have not previously qualified as a child.What is the most common cause of death in cerebral palsy patients? ›
Respiratory illness is a common cause of death for patients with cerebral palsy since they are prone to pneumonia, respiratory failure, and aspiration. Other common causes can include cardiovascular issues and organ failures.Is cerebral palsy a learning disability? ›
For some people, cerebral palsy will affect them physically, making muscle movement more difficult. Others may also be affected by seizures, epilepsy or difficulties with speech and language. Cerebral palsy is not a learning disability, but some people with cerebral palsy might have a learning disability.Who is the oldest person to live with cerebral palsy? ›
When Bernadette Rivard was born with severe physical disabilities in the 1930s, some might have thought her life would be a burden. It proved to be far from it. Listen to a CBC Radio documentary on her remarkable life.Can you drive a car if you have cerebral palsy? ›
Yes. Some people with cerebral palsy may be able to drive, depending on the severity of their disability. Since cerebral palsy affects everyone differently, some people might need significant vehicle modifications to operate their vehicle safely, while others may only need minor adjustments.Is it hard to live with cerebral palsy? ›
Fortunately, CP is not thought to impact life expectancy. Adults with CP have a life expectancy comparable to that of the general population. While a cerebral palsy diagnosis may come as a surprise to parents, this condition can be managed with proper treatment and continued care.What are the 4 stages of cerebral palsy? ›
CP is often classified by severity level as mild, moderate, severe, or no CP. These are broad generalizations that lack a specific set of criteria.
They might be unsteady when they walk. They might have a hard time with quick movements or movements that need a lot of control, like writing. They might have a hard time controlling their hands or arms when they reach for something.How does a person with cerebral palsy think? ›
Cerebral Palsy does not on its own affect a person's intelligence. However, as many as 30-50% of children with CP have some form of cognitive impairment caused by a coexisting condition.Are people with cerebral palsy normal mentally? ›
A new study finds that adults with cerebral palsy are at an increased risk of experiencing a mental health disorder compared to adults without the condition.Is cerebral palsy a physical or mental disability? ›
Cerebral palsy is a physical disability that's an umbrella term referring to a group of disorders affecting a person's ability to move. Cerebral palsy is due to damage to the developing brain during pregnancy, birth, or shortly after birth.Are cerebral palsy patients mentally challenged? ›
1 in 2 people with cerebral palsy have an intellectual disability. 1 in 5 people have a moderate to severe intellectual disability. Generally, the greater the level of a person's physical impairment, the more likely it is that they will have an intellectual disability.What organs are affected by cerebral palsy? ›
CP affects the cerebral motor cortex. This is the part of the brain that directs muscle movement. In fact, the first part of the name, cerebral, means having to do with the brain. The second part, palsy, means weakness or problems with using the muscles.Is cerebral palsy known from birth? ›
If cerebral palsy is severe, some signs and symptoms may be evident at birth. In many children, however, symptoms appear over time, as the child develops.Who carries the gene for cerebral palsy? ›
In particular, the analysis identified two genes — FBXO31 and RHOB — that when mutated are each alone sufficient to cause cerebral palsy. Many of the additional genes carrying mutations were only present in the child with cerebral palsy — meaning they arose randomly — while others were inherited from both parents.What not to say to someone with cerebral palsy? ›
Always refrain from using offensive, outdated words such as retard, freak, lame, crippled, subnormal, vegetable, handicapped or imbecile. Avoid negative descriptors such as suffering or battling (e.g. “she suffers from cerebral palsy”).What is life like with a child with cerebral palsy? ›
Daily living activities consist of using the bathroom, bathing, getting dressed, brushing teeth, washing hands, and other forms of hygiene that take place on a daily basis. Young children will need help with all of these activities; however, children with cerebral may need more long-term assistance.
In addition to physical disabilities from impaired muscle control, children with cerebral palsy will often have impaired hearing, speech, and vision. A significant percentage of children with cerebral palsy will also have some level of hearing impairment.What is the difference between Down syndrome and cerebral palsy? ›
Cerebral Palsy is a neurological condition that occurs due to trauma sustained by the brain during pregnancy or shortly after birth. Down Syndrome, however, is a genetic ailment that occurs when a child has an extra copy of chromosome 21, leading to physical and intellectual defects.What disabilities are associated with cerebral palsy? ›
Associative conditions of CP include vision and hearing impairment (these can be secondary conditions in some cases), intellectual and learning disabilities, and epilepsy, among others.What disability is like cerebral palsy? ›
Other progressive disorders that are occasionally misdiagnosed as cerebral palsy are metachromatic leukodystrophy, Pelizaeus-Merzbacher disease, and Rett syndrome. These disorders differ from cerebral palsy in that they cause breakdowns in cognitive and behavior skills, not just motor skills.Do kids with cerebral palsy feel pain? ›
Pain is one of the most frequent secondary conditions reported in CP, with 30–70% experiencing pain on a regular basis [6,7,8]. Girls usually report pain more often than boys and the pain intensity appears to be more severe in girls [6, 7, 9] Furthermore, the frequency of pain increases with age [7, 9].Will a brain scan show cerebral palsy? ›
CT scans take cross-sectional images of a child's brain. The scan takes roughly 20 minutes and it is used to detect and diagnose cerebral palsy. CT scans can help to eliminate any other conditions or diseases that have symptoms similar to CP.What does very mild cerebral palsy look like? ›
Children with mild cerebral palsy may exhibit signs of difficulty controlling movement as they try to walk, marked by a limp or tightness in the joints. They could also have problems controlling the muscles in their hands and feet. Along with physical symptoms, mild cerebral palsy can also cause cognitive issues.Does cerebral palsy affect IQ? ›
While cerebral palsy does not affect intelligence, many individuals with CP experience co-occurring intellectual disabilities. However, the two conditions are caused by damage to two separate areas of the brain.Does cerebral palsy cause mental delay? ›
Children with cerebral palsy are likely to have developmental delays because they suffered brain damage during or right after birth. Often, the failure to meet milestones within a reasonable period leads to the evaluation and diagnosis of cerebral palsy.Do you get Social Security for cerebral palsy? ›
In general, a person with a moderate to severe case of Cerebral Palsy will qualify for SSDI benefits as opposed to SSI benefits because there is a provision in the law that allows individuals that are disabled before they are 22 years old to collect SSDI benefits from their parent's work record.
Cerebral palsy is the most common childhood motor disability in the U.S. Not every child with CP needs a wheelchair. In fact, almost 60% of all children with cerebral palsy can walk independently without any equipment. Many of these children were once in a wheelchair but later were able to ambulate with the chair.Can a child with cerebral palsy get Social Security? ›
If you have cerebral palsy or you have a child with cerebral palsy, you can apply for benefits through the Social Security Administration (SSA). The SSA gives benefits to people who are unable to work due to a severe disability such as cerebral palsy.What is the average lifespan of someone with cerebral palsy? ›
Additionally, according to a study on individuals with cerebral palsy by BMC Neurology, more than 80% of individuals have a life expectancy of 58 years or more.What are the two biggest causes of cerebral palsy? ›
- Brain damage in the first few months or years of life.
- Infections, such as meningitis or encephalitis.
- Problems with blood flow to the brain due to stroke, blood clotting problems, abnormal blood vessels, a heart defect that was present at birth, or sickle cell disease.
It is believed that 25% of all cerebral palsy patients have behavioral issues. Those most at risk include cerebral palsy patients with epilepsy, intellectual disabilities, and severe pain. Some of the problem behaviors include: Anger issues making conflict likely.Can a man with cerebral palsy have a baby? ›
Men With Cerebral Palsy
Remember, cerebral palsy does not affect a person's ability to have children. Other factors, such as infertility, can cause conception problems, but infertility is not a symptom or associated condition of cerebral palsy disorder.
Some types of infection that have been linked with CP include viruses such as chickenpox, rubella (german measles), and cytomegalovirus (CMV), and bacterial infections such as infections of the placenta or fetal membranes, or maternal pelvic infections.Who is most at risk for cerebral palsy? ›
The earlier the birth and the lower the infant's birthweight, the greater the risk. Multiple gestations. Twins, triplets, and other multiple births are at higher risk of cerebral palsy. The risk is also greater for an infant whose twin or triplet dies before or shortly after birth.What is cerebral palsy caused by a lack of? ›
The main cause of cerebral palsy is brain injury caused by lack of oxygen to a baby's developing brain. Children with brain damage from lack of oxygen (hypoxia) may have issues affecting their fine motor skills, movement, coordination, muscle tone, and development.How can you tell if a baby has cerebral palsy? ›
poor muscle tone in a baby's limbs, resulting in heavy or floppy arms and legs. stiffness in a baby's joints or muscles, or uncontrolled movement in a baby's arms or legs. difficulty coordinating body movements, including grasping and clapping. a delay in meeting milestones, such as rolling over, crawling, and walking.
Is cerebral palsy genetic/hereditary? Familial cerebral palsy is uncommon, approximately 1% of people with cerebral palsy will have a sibling with the condition. It is even uncommon in twins - when one twin has cerebral palsy, 90% of co-twins will not have cerebral palsy.Is cerebral palsy a form of autism? ›
Is Cerebral Palsy a Form of Autism? Cerebral palsy is not a form of autism. According to the Mayo Clinic, cerebral palsy — which develops after the brain suffers severe damage before, during, or shortly after birth — causes problems with muscle control and tone, movement, and posture.Can people with cerebral palsy talk? ›
Some people with cerebral palsy may not be able to produce any sounds, others may be able to produce sounds but have difficulty controlling their movement enough to produce speech that is clear and understood by others. 1 in 4 people with cerebral palsy cannot talk.Can drugs cause cerebral palsy? ›
Common Risk Factors of Cerebral Palsy
Many of the most common risk factors for the development of cerebral palsy are also the result of using alcohol, drugs, and smoking while pregnant.