10 Things You Should Know About Cerebral Palsy


Cerebral palsy is a condition that may seem confusing or mysterious, especially if you don’t know a lot about it. Instead of doing some research on the condition or even just asking questions, people sometimes button down and avoid the topic — and the people — altogether for fear of saying something insensitive or offensive. Whether you’re familiar with cerebral palsy or are totally unfamiliar with the term, here are 10 things you need to know about it.

1.    What is it?

First, let’s get some facts out of the way. Cerebral palsy is a motor disability that is usually diagnosed in early childhood. It makes it hard to move and to stay balanced when upright. It is the most commonly diagnosed motor disorder for children, with the CDC estimating that 1 out of every 345 children has been diagnosed with the disorder.

2.    It’s not a disease.

Cerebral palsy is not a disease. You can’t catch CP like you catch the flu, and it’s definitely not contagious. It’s also not a birth defect, and in most cases, it’s no one’s fault. The causes of CP are currently unknown, but you can’t catch it.

3.    It’s Not Always the Same, Part 1.

I hesitate to use the word spectrum because it is most commonly associated with autism, but CP exists on a spectrum too — the disorder affects each person differently. Even two people who were diagnosed at the same time might go two totally different directions when it comes to the development of their condition. Some people might be able to walk with little trouble, while others might need a wheelchair for mobility — it’s different for everyone. Treatment options are also different depending on the particular diagnosis. Things like exercise and hydrotherapy can be a great tool because it provides a way to strengthen the muscles even when they’re difficult to control.

4.    It’s Not Always the Same, Part 2

You don’t feel the same as you get older, right? You might start to feel more mature, or your joints might start to ache. The same rules apply for people with CP — the condition changes as the person grows up and ages. Some studies have been done that look deeper into the development of CP for those who reach adulthood, which is upwards of 99 percent of children diagnosed with the disorder.

5.    It’s not an intellectual disability.

Individuals with CP often have average or above-average intelligence, though if they have a speech impairment, they might have trouble conveying their thoughts. Talk to a person with CP like you would talk to anyone else. If they need you to slow down, or need some sort of special accommodation, they’ll probably ask for it.

6.    Get a Job!

Many people with cerebral palsy can get a job and live a full and fulfilling life once they reach adulthood. It’s important to understand one’s need for job accommodations and make sure the employer understands them as well, but beyond that, finding a job is just one more part of growing up. You might want to take the time to educate yourself on your state’s laws concerning disability and employment, just to be prepared for the future.

7.    Chase Those Dreams.

Chasing dreams is just like finding a job — there’s nothing standing in anyone’s way! If someone with CP wants to climb a mountain, go whitewater rafting or jump out of an airplane, there are ways to accomplish all of this and more. It’s got nothing to do with CP.

8.    It Doesn’t Change Someone’s Personality.

A body that doesn’t cooperate might seem like it could stifle the personality within, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. People with CP can have vibrant, amazing, exciting personalities and their movement disorder doesn’t do anything to dull their shine. CP is a fact of life, but it doesn’t stop people from laughing, crying, making friends or having relationships.

9.    It’s a Bit “Sexist.”

More boys will be diagnosed with cerebral palsy than girls. The ratio of boys to girls being diagnosed is 1.4/1, which means that for every 100 girls who are diagnosed with CP, 140 boys are diagnosed.

10.  They’re Just Like Everyone Else.

When it comes right down to it, people with CP are just like everyone else. Sure, they’ve got a condition that means their muscles don’t always work right and they might need a bit of help every now and then, but if you think about it, who doesn’t need a little help from time to time? Anyone who’s ever had to pack a house or move a sofa knows how important a little bit of help can be.

Hopefully you have a better idea of what cerebral palsy is, how it can affect someone’s life and most importantly, that it doesn’t make someone any different from you. CP is a diagnosis, a medical condition, not a person. The next time you meet someone with cerebral palsy, take the time to get to know them and ask some questions. You may be surprised how much you don’t know.

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Thinkstock photo by Huntstock.

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