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Cerebral Palsy

cerebral; palsy; CP; brain; spastic; disability; therapy; weakness;


What is cerebral palsy?

cerebralThe word cerebral means something to do with the brain (cerebrum (say se-ri-brum)). Palsy means a weakness or problems in moving the body.

People who have cerebral palsy have a type of brain damage which causes trouble controlling the movements of their body. There is no cure for cerebral palsy.

Some people with cerebral palsy also have trouble with thinking, but many can think well – it is their body movements they have problems with, not their mind.

Types of cerebral palsy

There are 3 main types of cerebral palsy.

  1. The most common is Spasticity (say spass-tiss-ity) - this is when the muscles are stiff or tight which is most obvious when the person tries to move. Usually muscles work in pairs so that as one muscle contracts the other relaxes and this combination helps us to move around freely. In spastic cerebral palsy both lots of muscles contract so the person is unable to make controlled movements.
  2. Athetoid (say ath-uh-toid) - where the person's body moves in ways that the person is unable to control. This means their arms or legs may move suddenly when they don't want them to move.
  3. Ataxic (say a-tax-ik) - which causes shaky movement and affects the person’s ability to balance or coordinate movement. They can have problems with walking and writing for example.

Who can get cerebral palsy?

no one knows for certain how kids get cerebral palsyNo one knows for certain how kids get cerebral palsy. Cerebral palsy is not contagious. You cannot 'catch' it.

  • For most kids with CP the problem in the brain happens before they are born (perhaps their mother had rubella during pregnancy), but sometimes the damage happens at birth.
  • Sometimes it can happen if the baby is born way too early (premature) or is very sick after birth.
  • Sometimes it can happen if a baby has a head injury in the first year or so after birth.

Doctors can usually tell if a kid has CP by the time he or she is 18 months old, sometimes much earlier.

There are over 33,000 people in Australia who have CP or some other similar condition.

Effects of cerebral palsy

Some kids have mild cerebral palsy - they have trouble with control of some movements and may have trouble with writing and seem clumsy.

Others have much more severe problems.

  • wheelchairThey may have trouble walking or need to be in a wheelchair.
  • They may have problems talking.
  • They may have problems keeping still when they want to.
  • They may have problems playing like other kids.
  • They may have problems feeding themselves or even eating.
  • Some also have a lot of difficulty with thinking.

The damage to their brain won’t get any worse as the kid gets older but the problems with their body might get worse. For example their muscles might get so tight that their arms or legs stay bent all the time – they can no longer stretch them out.

What can be done?

  • walking with the aid of sticksMany kids with cerebral palsy are still able to go to regular school, join in games, use computers and many of the kinds of usual stuff that other kids do.
  • Some kids may need to wear braces to help them walk or may need to be in a wheelchair to help them get around.
  • Some kids may be in a special school where everything is set up to help them and they are taught and cared for by specially trained people.
  • Kids with CP usually have regular physiotherapy (say fizz-ee-oh-the-rap-ee) to exercise their muscles and help their muscles to relax.
  • Occupational therapists can help with finding ways for a kid to be able to do things. Some kids may need special equipment to help them in their daily lives – such as special chairs or special spoons to help them eat.
  • They also often get speech therapy to help them talk.
  • Sometimes a kid may have seizures and there is medication to help.

What can kids do?

friends and classmates can helpFriends and classmates can help a kid with CP by being a good friend, doing things which include everyone, and being kind, thoughtful and understanding.

Sometimes people are unkind when they are faced by something or someone different. People often tease or don't know what to say when they meet up with a disabled person. You may be able to help your friend cope with this.

There is a topic called 'Having a disabled child in the family' which might give you some ideas about how to help your friend.

Cerebral palsy
A condition with her legs
She walks with her sticks.

My friend has CP
She walks with the aid of sticks
She beats her CP.

Dr Kate says

Dr KateAll of us are special and unique. Often we can be a bit worried or even scared if we come across someone who looks or acts in a different way to ourselves. Remember that on the inside we are all the same. We all need friends and we all need someone to care for us and about us.

In South Australia we have a member of Parliament who has cerebral palsy - Kelly Vincent. She is doing a great job of making sure that voices of disabled people are heard.

Many people with CP have university degrees and many are doing great work in our community.

After all, just look at our Paralympians and what they achieved despite having cerebral palsy.

  • Peter Leek and Jacqueline Freney - swimming.
  • Evan O'Hanlon and Lisa McIntosh - Athletics.
  • Christopher Scott - cyclist.
  • Rebecca McDonell - table tennis.
  • Brad Scott - runner.
  • Alexander Lisney - cyclist.
  • Barat Mizrachi - table tennis.

All the athletes in the Paralympics have some kind of disability but they have worked very hard and have proudly represented their countries.

Finding out about our differences helps us to become more understanding and caring about each other.

people with CP can do stuff that other people do

You can find out more about our Paralympic athletes if you visit  

if you or your friend has a disability you may still be able to become and athlete.You may even become a paralympian if you have the skills you need and you are prepared to work really hard! You'll never know if you don't give it a go.

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We've provided this information to help you to understand important things about staying healthy and happy. However, if you feel sick or unhappy, it is important to tell your mum or dad, a teacher or another grown-up.


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