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Cerebral palsy is a group of disorders that affect a person’s ability to move and maintain balance and posture. Cerebral palsy happens when the areas of the brain that control movement and posture do not develop correctly or are damaged. This may occur while a fetus (unborn baby in the womb) through early childhood. Causes of cerebral palsy include:
- Genetic defects or missing genes
- Infections of the mother during pregnancy (such as rubella)
- Damage to the fetus due to toxins or reduced blood flow
- Head injury or brain infections after birth
Symptoms can include:
- Being physically clumsy
- Muscles that are too stiff or floppy
- Disturbance in walking
- Excessive drooling or problems swallowing or speaking
- Shaking or other movements that can't be controlled
- Problems with fine motor skills, such as writing or buttoning a shirt
The symptoms of cerebral palsy differ from one person to the next. One person with cerebral palsy may be only slightly awkward and need no special assistance. Yet another may be unable to walk and need a lot of care.
Cerebral palsy has no cure. But many children go on to lead near-normal adult lives if they receive appropriate treatment. In general, the earlier treatment begins the better chance children have of overcoming developmental delays or learning new ways of doing things to overcome physical disabilities. The need for therapy and the kinds of therapy required change from childhood through adulthood.
Adults with cerebral palsy are living longer than they once did. Living longer has resulted in medical and functional problems, some which begin at a fairly young age. These include:
Day-to-day challenges faced in the workplace and home are likely to increase as people with cerebral palsy age. Accommodations at work and at home can help people with cerebral palsy maintain independence. Because many people with cerebral palsy outlive their caregivers, planning for long-term care also is important.
Explore other publications and websites
Aging and Cerebral Palsy (Copyright © United Cerebral Palsy) — This article offers information about cerebral palsy and what you can expect as you age. It lists other conditions that people with cerebral palsy are at higher risk of developing as they age, and gives the contact information for doctors that specialize in cerebral palsy in adults.
Cerebral Palsy — This fact sheet explains the different forms of cerebral palsy, available treatment options, special education needs, and tips for parents and teachers, as well as provides links to additional resources.
Cerebral Palsy: Hope Through Research — This fact sheet provides a definition of cerebral palsy and an overview of its different forms, causes, signs, and treatments. The publication also provides a glossary.
Developmental Disabilities — This page provides links to information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on different developmental disabilities, including autism spectrum disorders, cerebral palsy, and mental retardation.
Employees With Cerebral Palsy (Copyright © Job Accommodation Network) — This publication for employers provides basic information on cerebral palsy and the types of workplace accommodations for employees with this medical condition.
Exercise Principles and Guidelines for Persons With Cerebral Palsy and Neuromuscular Disorders (Copyright © United Cerebral Palsy) — This website explains the importance of exercise for maintaining health, and addresses specific concerns for people with cerebral palsy. It also includes exercise suggestions, health and safety guidelines, and links to other organizations.
Handy Tips or Things to Know about About Airlines, Trains, and Hotels (Copyright © United Cerebral Palsy) — This web page offers tips and suggestions for people with disabilities to consider when travelling.
NINDS Cerebral Palsy Information Page — This online fact sheet gives information about cerebral palsy and discusses treatment, prognosis, and research.
Connect with other organizations
American Academy for Cerebral Palsy and Developmental Medicine
National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities, CDC
National Dissemination Center for Children With Disabilities, OSEP, ED
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, NIH, HHS
United Cerebral Palsy
Content last updated September 22, 2009.
Resources last updated September 22, 2009.
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