Cerebral palsy refers to a group of disorders that affect the brain and nervous system.
The condition is typically caused by a brain injury suffered during pregnancy or birth. In the legal world, cerebral palsy is known as a type of “birth injury.” Such a birth injury can cause developmental problems that may impair the patient’s movement, cognition, sight, or hearing.
Many instances of cerebral palsy can be attributed to medical malpractice at the time of the newborn’s birth. Cerebral palsy is not a genetic condition and it is not progressive, meaning it cannot be passed onto children and the symptoms do not typically worsen with age.
Parents of children who have been diagnosed with cerebral palsy may be both shocked and confused, seeking answers to help shed light on their child’s condition.
Below, we have outlined some of the most commonly asked questions and answers regarding a child who has recently been diagnosed with cerebral palsy.
How Do Children Develop Cerebral Palsy?
Many children with cerebral palsy develop the condition during pregnancy, but problems may also occur at birth. Scientists used to believe cerebral palsy was caused by oxygen deprivation during birth, but doctors now believe a range of injuries can lead to cerebral palsy.
The vast majority of cases — some 85-90% — are congenital, meaning they relate to brain damage that occurred before or during birth.
A smaller number of cerebral palsy cases stem from brain damage occurring more than 28 days after birth, usually as a result of a serious head injury or a brain infection like meningitis.
Unfortunately, some cerebral palsy cases can also be attributed to medical malpractice. During birth, the misuse of medication, poor patient monitoring, neglect for preexisting conditions, as well as a range of other errors, can put a child at risk for a brain injury that can cause cerebral palsy.
There are additional risk factors that increase the odds of a child developing cerebral palsy, including:
- Being born too early
- Being born too small
- Being a twin
- Conception by in vitro fertilization
- An infection during pregnancy
- Kernicterus (a type of brain damage caused by untreated jaundice)
It is important to note that with regard to the above factors, an obstetrician/gynecologist (OB/GYNs) or another medical practitioner may have missed certain warning signs that a newborn was infected or experienced brain damage.
This is often why parents of children diagnosed with cerebral palsy file a cerebral palsy lawsuit.
What Are the Symptoms of Cerebral Palsy?
As cerebral palsy is a disorder rather than a disease, its symptoms vary greatly from person to person. The type of cerebral palsy that a child is diagnosed with can also determine the symptoms that appear. That being said, a vast majority of patients with cerebral palsy have problems with movement and posture.
Someone with severe cerebral palsy may require the use of special equipment to walk, or they may not be able to walk at all. A mild case, on the other hand, may make walking difficult but not require special assistance. Many children with cerebral palsy grow up to lead independent lives.
As cerebral palsy includes a group of disorders, patients may experience a range of other challenges, including intellectual disabilities, seizures, vision or hearing impairment, scoliosis, or speech problems. While some children may suffer all of the above, others may have no such symptoms. Treatment, therefore, depends entirely on the child and their diagnosis.
Are There Different Types of Cerebral Palsy?
Yes — there are 4 primary types of cerebral palsy:
- Spastic Cerebral Palsy: This is the most common type of cerebral palsy, prevalent in roughly 80% of cases. Patients have increased muscle tone and stiffness, resulting in awkward or uncontrolled movements. The severity of spastic cerebral palsy has to do with which limbs or parts of the body are most affected by the condition.
- Dyskinetic Cerebral Palsy: People with this type of cerebral palsy have trouble controlling the movement of their hands, arms, feet, and legs, resulting in jerky movements and difficulty sitting or walking. Dyskinetic cerebral palsy can also affect the muscles of the face and mouth, making it difficult for patients to speak or swallow.
- Ataxic Cerebral Palsy: This form of cerebral palsy presents as problems with balance and coordination. Patients usually have trouble with precise motor control or movements, such as writing or holding their hand(s) steady.
- Mixed Cerebral Palsy: Some patients may experience a blend of the above conditions, with elements of some or all of the primary forms of cerebral palsy.
What Challenges Will My Child Face?
As children with cerebral palsy grow up, they are more likely to face a number of challenges stemming from their condition.
Again, these symptoms depend almost entirely on the severity of the case, but cerebral palsy patients are often known to suffer from arthritis, mild to severe joint pain, premature aging, and work challenges. These challenges can be mitigated or overcome with proper treatment, care, and therapy.
When Are Children Diagnosed With Cerebral Palsy?
Children are usually diagnosed with cerebral palsy within their first 2 years of life. More mild symptoms may be more difficult to diagnose, leading to a later diagnosis at the age of 3 or 4, or even later, though this is typically uncommon.
How Common Is Cerebral Palsy?
Cerebral palsy is the most common motor disability in childhood. In the United States alone, some 10,000 babies are born with cerebral palsy each year. While that may sound like a lot, it represents only 0.2% of all births.
What Treatments Are Available?
While there is no cure for cerebral palsy, the condition is not considered life-threatening. Most children with cerebral palsy can be expected to live normal lifespans. However, their success and livelihood depend largely on their access to state-of-the-art medical treatments and services.
Physical therapy is one of the most important treatments, as it can help patients better control their movements and, in more serious cases, prevent muscle atrophy.
Children with cerebral palsy may also benefit from speech therapy to help coordinate the muscles used in speech.
Occupational therapy can further help patients live and work independently, without much need for assistance. (Again, though, it depends on the case.) Some cerebral palsy patients have also benefited from a mix of drug and surgical procedures meant to manage the symptoms of the disorder.
While each person’s circumstances are unique, a combination of these treatments may drastically help a child overcome some of the limitations of cerebral palsy and set them down the road toward a fulfilling and independent life.
For some, however, the nature of their particular case makes independent living extremely difficult or even impossible. It is for those patients that scientists and medical professionals continue to research cerebral palsy in hopes of finding a cure.