Cerebral palsy, a condition often marked by jerking movements of the limbs and an abnormal gait, is the most common physical disability in childhood. It affects 17 million people globally. Yet many people have little understanding of what it is, what causes it and whom it affects.
World Cerebral Palsy Day, Saturday, Oct. 6, is an opportunity to learn more about the condition and what the cerebral palsy community is doing to champion the rights of those affected. Consider these common misconceptions below.
Misconception No. 1: All people with cerebral palsy use a wheelchair, are hearing impaired or can’t talk.
Cerebral palsy affects everyone differently. For some people, the condition affects their ability to walk. Some may use leg braces or canes or a wheelchair. CP can even affect cognitive functions in some cases.
According to Gillette Children’s Hospital, there are three main types of CP:
- Spastic features unusually tight or stiff muscles. It is the most common form, accounting for about 80 percent of all cases. The stiffness typically causes awkward movements. It may occur mainly in the legs or mainly on one side of the body, with the arm more affected than the leg. In spastic quadriplegia, the most severe form of CP, the individual cannot walk and often has intellectual disability, seizures and problems with seeing, hearing and talking.
- Dyskinetic is marked by involuntary movements like tremors, difficulty balancing or difficulty making coordinated movements. These issues can make it hard to sit and walk. Sometimes the face is affected and the person has a hard time swallowing and talking, according to the CDC.
- Mixed presentation features symptoms of both spastic and dyskinetic, which occurs when the brain has been damaged in multiple areas.
Misconception No. 2: Cerebral palsy is hereditary.
Cerebral palsy is, for the most part, not hereditary. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, CP is caused by damage to the brain before, during or shortly after birth due to various factors, including:
- Pre-term birth (the most common cause)
- Head injuries
- Infections in the brain or spinal cord
- Restricted oxygen to the brain
In addition, Gillette Children’s Hospital says that children with genetic conditions that affect development of vital organs like the brain are more likely to develop CP.
Misconception No. 3: Cerebral palsy is contagious.
Cerebral palsy is not contagious. You cannot catch it by touching or getting close to a person with the disorder.
Misconception No. 4: Cerebral palsy can be cured.
Right now, there is no cure for CP. Stem cells are being explored as a potential treatment option, but research still needs to be done to assess whether it’s a safe option. Current treatments include medication, surgery, and physical and speech therapy.
Misconception No. 5: Cerebral palsy gets worse over time.
The brain damage that causes cerebral palsy does not get worse over time, but the symptoms may change. Some of those changes may be due to a child’s growth. For example, bones may grow normally while spastic muscles might not, making the muscles tighter, according to the Center for Cerebral Palsy at UCLA.
For more information about cerebral palsy and about efforts to increase access for people with the disorder, visit the World Cerebral Palsy Day website.