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Caring for a Child With Cerebral Palsy

It isn't easy raising and caring for a child with cerebral palsy, but that doesn't mean you are helpless. You can be your child's best advocate in the months and years to come, ensuring that he or she gets the care that's needed. The more you know, the better prepared you will be to help your child. This is particularly important in the case of cerebral palsy, which is a complex condition with a broad range of possible symptoms and complications. The good news is that there are now many options for children with cerebral palsy and their parents/caregivers in terms of medical and surgical treatments, practical help and social care support, as well as a wealth of information resources.

What Is Cerebral Palsy?

Cerebral palsy is an umbrella term for a group of neurological disorders that appear early in life. They permanently affect the individual's ability to coordinate movement. Abnormalities in the brain cause cerebral palsy. Cerebral palsy is usually not progressive; that is, it does not tend to get worse with age.

Recent studies have found that most children with cerebral palsy are born with it, although doctors may not diagnose the condition until a child is a few years old.

These are other possible causes of cerebral palsy:

  • Genetic or metabolic abnormalities
  • Fetal injury
  • Maternal infection, such as rubella, during pregnancy
  • Birth complications
  • Head injury within the first few months of life
  • Brain infections, such as bacterial meningitis or encephalitis

Although there has been considerable research into the condition, there is still much that is not known about cerebral palsy and its origins.

Signs of Cerebral Palsy

The signs of cerebral palsy usually develop before a child turns 3. The parent of a child with cerebral palsy is usually the first to notice these signs, and to realize that the child is not developing normally. The signs of cerebral palsy vary widely and can range from mild to severe. Some people with the condition are intellectually impaired, but many have no mental deficits at all.

Early signs of cerebral palsy include:

  •   Developmental delay: An infant with cerebral palsy may not learn to sit or walk or reach other developmental milestones at the appropriate age.
  •   Abnormal muscle tone: The infant's body typically seems very stiff, though it may appear overly relaxed and floppy.
  • Unusual posture or body position.

Very fidgety babies with excessive colic and sleep disorders may also be at risk, although in many cases these may be normal phases. Parents often know when they become abnormally persistent and part of the bigger picture and take this concern further by consulting their doctor.

Other signs may include:

  • Dragging one foot or favoring one arm -- features which show uneven muscle function
  • Lots of drooling or trouble sucking, swallowing, or talking
  • Tremors

If your child shows any of these signs, you should consult your child's doctor.

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