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What is Cerebral Palsy?

Published on 6th Jul 2017
Encompass Blog and Updates

Cerebral Palsy is arguable one of the most widely known physical conditions in the world. Although an umbrella term that covers a variety of conditions, roughly one in four hundred people are born with the condition,

The condition can be caused prenatal, but trauma during birth, lack of oxygen to the brain and meningitis can all cause the condition to develop.

The condition is also more common in high risk pregnancies, pregnancies with multiple births and in babies with low birth weights (or very premature).

The condition isn’t genetic, at least not in the same way other conditions can be. There is a correlation between cerebral palsy and families with a history of twins or women in the family having a ‘short cervix’.

Relatively easy to diagnose, cerebral palsy isn’t a learning disability as such but because of the nature of the condition, individuals can develop learning disabilities.

The condition was put under the spotlight thanks to the hit show Breaking Bad in which the lead character’s son, Flynn, has Cerebral Palsy.

The show cast RJ Mitte – who has Cerebral Palsy – to play the role that used the character and his celebrity platform to raise awareness about the condition and challenge the assumptions of the general public, particularly in the US, with regards to individuals with disabilities.

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RJ Mitte as Walter 'Flynn' White Jr - Image courtesy of AMC

He received considerable praise for helping people understand that just because a teenage boy has a physical or learning disability doesn’t mean the other pressures and anxieties of youth change or go away.

His character still wanted to learn to drive, go to prom and lead a full life regardless of the challenges in his life.

As with so many other conditions, Cerebral Palsy doesn’t have a fixed list of issues. For some the condition will affect them physically, making muscle movements more difficult. Others may also be affected by seizures, epilepsy or difficulties with speech and language.

Unbeknown to most, there are three classifications of Cerebral Palsy:

Spastic Cerebral Palsy

This accounts for 75% of cases and impacts on how the brain controls muscle tone. This makes for very tight muscles and stiff jerky movements.

Spastic Cerebral Palsy also doesn’t necessarily affect the entire body.

Ataxic Cerebral Palsy

Considered to be the least debilitating of the three, Ataxic Cerebral Palsy is damage to the cerebellum, the part of the brain that controls balance and co-ordination.

Individuals with this type of Cerebral Palsy will often experience difficulties with fine motor skills and tremors.

The least common – just 5% of cases – it is believed to be caused primarily by congenital defect.

Athetoid Cerebral Palsy

Caused by legions forming during brain development, it can manifest in one of two ways.

The first is through involuntary movements. The other is repetitive muscle contractions and abnormal fixed postures.

Both can be very painful from muscle cramps and relentless muscle spasms. Roughly 20% of cases have Athetoid Cerebral Palsy.

In very rare instances an individual can have Mixed Cerebral Palsy, as its name suggests is a mixture of the three.

There is no cure for Cerebral Palsy but physiotherapy can help improve posture and muscle control.

Early diagnosis also means that any learning disabilities or challenges with speech and language can be identified and the right support put in place from the beginning.

Encompass works with people with learning disabilities in Dorset to lead a happy and fulfilled life.