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What Is Cerebral Palsy?

Cerebral Palsy is a broad term that describes a group of disorders that affect a person’s ability to physically control and move their body. 

The word “cerebral” comes from the latin “cerebrum” and means of or relating to the brain. 

The word “palsy” comes from the latin “paralysis” and means a weakness or stiffness of a person’s muscles.

Put together, “Cerebral Palsy” means that damage to the brain affects the body’s muscles, causing them to be weak, stiff, or otherwise disabled. 

The effects of CP vary significantly from person to person–because it is a broad diagnosis, the specific nature and degree of the brain injury will affect each person differently. Similarly, receiving good treatment can significantly improve a person’s condition. 

In mild cases of CP, where the brain damage is minimal, the affect the brain damage has on the muscles may be similarly minimal, resulting in a slight limp or a lack of coordination in an arm or hand. 

In more extreme cases of CP, where the brain damage is severe, the person may be rendered immobile and unable to perform basic movements, like holding their head up, or feeding themselves.

Although Cerebral Palsy is–by definition–the result of a brain injury, CP is not a diagnosis of intellectual disability. Many people who have CP also have other related brain injuries that result in intellectual disability, but CP is related only to problems with movement and posture. 

In the following sections of CPGuide, we will discuss each of the following topics:

Types of Cerebral Palsy

Doctors divide up the types of CP depending on what areas of the body are affected and to what extent the person is disabled. There are three main factors:

  • Spasticity
  • Dyskinesia
  • Ataxia

Spasticity comes from the Greek word “spastikos” and in modern english refers to stiff muscles.

Dyskinesia comes from the Greek word “dyskīnēsía” and refers to muscle spasms and uncontrollable movements. 

Ataxia comes from two Greek words, “a,” which means without, and “taxis,” which means order. Taken together, Ataxia refers to poor balance and coordination. 

With these characteristics in mind, doctors have established four main types of CP:

  • Spastic Cerebral Palsy
  • Dyskinetic Cerebral Palsy
  • Ataxic Cerebral Palsy
  • Mixed Cerebral Palsy

For more information on the common types of CP, dive into our section on Types of CP. Here, we discuss the different types of CP in detail, comparing the similarities and differences and how each kind of CP affects a person.


The cause of CP is an abnormal development in the brain or brain damage. One of the causes of CP is a lack of oxygen to the brain shortly before or during the birthing process. 

When CP is caused before or during the birthing process, it is known as “congenital” CP. These cases make up more than 85% of CP conditions. 

In some rare cases, CP can be “acquired” shortly after birth–usually by an infection or a head injury. 

For a more detailed resource on the causes of CP, head over to our section on the Causes of CP


The indications of CP vary significantly depending on the type and severity of the condition. The most common early signs of the presence of CP are related to physical milestones in early child development. 

For example, if a baby has trouble with holding her head up, rolling over, sitting up, or standing, those may all be indications of CP. Other potential indicators of CP is when a child is experiencing seizures, or having difficulty feeding. 

In our section on the Symptoms of Cerebral Palsy, we go in depth on what to look for, including a break down of common symptoms at specific ages. 

Screening and Diagnosis

Because early intervention can make such a positive difference in the life of people with cerebral palsy, it’s important to identify CP as early as possible. There are three primary methods for identifying and diagnosing CP: developmental monitoring, developmental screening, and developmental medical evaluations. 

If you have questions about whether your child should be screen for CP or about what that process is like, take a look at our section on How CP Is Diagnosed

Prognosis and Life Expectancy

A child’s prognosis with CP depends greatly on the severity of the disability and on the child’s access to a good treatment plan. In cases of mild CP, the child is often expected to have a life expectancy similar to the general population. 

In cases of severe CP, if for example, the child requires 24/7 medical supervision, then getting access to medical treatment and care is highly important for improving the child’s prognosis and life expectancy. 

For detailed information on this subject, read our section on Life Expectancy and Prognosis for CP.

Treatment Plans

There is no cure for cerebral palsy and the condition is permanent. However, there are many steps that can be taken to improve the life of a child with CP. The most important step is to develop a treatment plan that is specifically tailored to your child’s needs.

A treatment plan may include physical therapy, occupational therapy, visits with the doctor, corrective surgeries, special accommodations in school, and more. 

In our section on Treatment for CP, we discuss the factors that may be relevant for your child’s treatment plan and link to resources to help you learn more about different kinds of treatment options. 

Related Conditions

Because CP involves an injury to the brain, it is not uncommon for a child to also have other injuries and complications.

Other related conditions include seizures, intellectual disabilities, poor eyesight and or hearing, and difficulty with speech. 

For a full dive into the conditions related to CP, check out our section on Related Conditions.

Community Resources

Fortunately, no one is alone in the CP community. There are many vibrant support organizations available to help support you, your family, and your child, including government resources, community lead organizations, social media groups, and programs within the education system. 

We have compiled a list of some of the most helpful resources in our Resources for CP section–go take a look and find out how to connect with other people in the CP community!

Legal Resources

Children who have CP sometimes require expensive treatment plans. The costs of hospital visits, surgeries, physical therapy, and more all adds up–in our section on Resources for CP, we outline some ways that you can get help with those costs and support for your family. 

In our Legal Resources section, we explore whether your child’s CP may have been caused by a preventable medical error. Unfortunately, CP can be the result of medical malpractice. If the medical professionals involved in your child’s labor and delivery process did not follow the standard of medical care, those medical professionals may have caused your child’s CP. 

If you have questions about whether your child’s CP was caused by a preventable medical error, a birth injury attorney may be able to help. You may be entitled to compensation that can help pay for a full treatment plan for your child.

About Brown Trial Firm

Getting help for a child with cerebral palsy can make a big difference. Because early intervention is often key to helping improve a child’s wellbeing, it’s important to act swiftly.

At the Brown Trial Firm, our birth injury attorneys can help you investigate your case, find answers to your questions, and determine whether you are entitled to compensation. 

We offer case reviews at no cost or obligation. Many birth injuries that cause cerebral palsy could have been prevented. Don’t wait, get help today. Call us toll free at +1 (866) 223-7465 or email us a [email protected].


What is Cerebral Palsy? | CDC. (2018). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved 31 October 2019, from https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/cp/facts.html

(2019). Cdc.gov. Retrieved 31 October 2019, from https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/actearly/pdf/parents_pdfs/IntellectualDisability.pdf

Developmental Milestones. (2018). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved 31 October 2019, from https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/actearly/milestones/index.html

Cerebral Palsy. (2019). HealthyChildren.org. Retrieved 31 October 2019, from https://www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/conditions/developmental-disabilities/pages/Cerebral-Palsy.aspx

Home . (2019). Aaidd.org. Retrieved 31 October 2019, from https://www.aaidd.org/home

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