Child & Family Development Child & Family Development

March 25, 2022

Cerebral Palsy

By: Madison McClure, DPT

March 25th is Cerebral Palsy Awareness Day! What better opportunity to learn a bit about this common childhood condition and shed some light on a couple success stories?

Cerebral Palsy (CP) is the result of a brain injury that most often occurs around birth. It can be the result of trauma, lack of oxygen, an infection, or something else. Injury to parts of the brain that deal with motor function can result in difficulties with balance, intentional movement, and postural control and affect resting muscle tone. The injury may result in cognitive deficits, communication difficulties, and other symptoms.

There are several types of CP that are characterized by unique symptoms and movement patterns. Each child’s presentation is related to the part of the brain that is affected. Let’s talk a bit about the different types of CP and what you might be able to expect when you hear this terminology.

  • Spastic: the most common type of CP where muscles are extremely tight and have difficulty relaxing.
  • Ataxic: motor control is affected and smooth, controlled movement is very difficult.
  • Athetoid: characterized by involuntary movements and muscle tone that frequently changes.
  • Hypotonic: muscles are loose or floppy. These kids are extremely flexible and have difficulty with mobility.
  • Mixed: multiple areas of the brain are involved with symptoms from more than one category

CP can affect one or both sides of the body. If all 4 limbs are affected, it may be referred to as “quadriplegic”. If both legs are mainly involved, you may hear the term “diplegic”. Lastly, “hemiplegic” refers to one arm and one leg on the same side of the body that are most affected.

Kids with cerebral palsy often have difficulty achieving motor milestones, becoming independent with activities in their daily lives, and communicating with others. A team of physical, occupational, and speech therapists can work together to develop a treatment plan to address goals that are important to the child and their family. Increased muscle tone can put the body in some pretty uncomfortable positions. Therapy can improve someone’s quality of life by decreasing pain and the risk of joint injuries by increasing and maintaining range of motion. Therapists will also work to increase mobility and access in the home and in the community by teaching effective and save movement patterns. Sometimes equipment is necessary and you might see kids with braces, splints, wheelchairs, walkers, standers, and other types of devices that protect their joints and maximize their ability to participate in whatever activities they wish.

While there are varying degrees of severity, the sky is truly the limit. One of many famous CP advocates is RJ Mitte, an actor who starred on the popular series “Breaking Bad”. He currently works to increase opportunities for aspiring actors with disabilities. Justin Gallegos notably was the first runner with CP to earn an endorsement from Nike. Currently, he collaborates with the brand to design clothes and shoes for athletes with different accessibility needs. Last but not least is Dan Keplinger. Known professionally as “King Gimp”, Dan chose this artist name as a statement against the negative connotation of the word. Dan creates his award winning artwork through the use of his head stick, as he has limited control over his hands and other limbs.

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