Cerebral Palsy: Parent’s Guide

Cerebral palsy is a complex neurological condition that impacts movement, muscle control and cognitive communication. Whether you're a parent or a caregiver, knowing about its causes, symptoms, and treatment options can help your child live a better life.

By URLife Team
06 Oct 2023

Cerebral palsy is a neurological condition characterised by impaired movement abilities resulting from factors such as reduced muscle strength, disrupted muscle coordination, or excessive muscle tightness. A 2023 study issued by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders And Strokes states that unlike primary muscle damage, cerebral palsy is primarily caused by brain damage. This brain damage disrupts the normal signalling between the brain and muscles, leading to muscle weakness, stiffness, and abnormal movements. The term "cerebral" pertains to the brain, and "palsy" refers to paralysis.


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Understanding Cerebral Palsy

Understanding cerebral palsy and its various facets is crucial to providing the best possible support and care for those living with this condition.


Dr. S. Vani, a consultant paediatric and neurologist at Apollo Children's Hospitals, Chennai, talks about cerebral palsy in children. Cerebral palsy can arise from poor brain development or damage during gestation, at birth, or within the first year of life. While it primarily affects motor function, it can also impact other aspects of a person's life, including understanding, cognition, learning, intellectual abilities, behaviour, communication, speech, sensations, perception, hearing, and vision. The specific challenges faced by individuals with cerebral palsy depend on the areas of the brain affected.


So, how common is cerebral palsy in India? Cerebral palsy is a common childhood neurodevelopmental disorder. According to a 2022 study published in the Bulletin of Faculty of Physical Therapy, the estimated prevalence of cerebral palsy in India ranges from 2.1 to 3 per 1000 live births.


Dr. S. Vani says that it is common in developing countries like India because of the developing nature of Indian health care in semi-urban and rural areas and the lack of technology used, antenatal and perinatal care. In this, the mother does not get adequate medical attention which can include foetus scan during pregnancy and newborn not receiving enough high oxygen flow, if required, post delivery.


Some common causes of cerebral palsy

  1. Spontaneous genetic mutations affecting brain development.
  2. Maternal infections impacting foetal development.
  3. Infant infections triggering inflammation in the brain.
  4. Traumatic head injuries, including those during birth.
  5. Foetal strokes disrupt blood flow and hinder brain development.


While cerebral palsy is a lifelong condition, there are still ways to treat the condition so that your child can have a comfortable life. Therefore, it is crucial to have a deep understanding of the symptoms and associated issues related to cerebral palsy to ensure that the challenges faced by affected children do not worsen, explains Dr. Vani. 


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Symptoms of Cerebral Palsy

While cerebral palsy affects the brain in all cases, its manifestations are highly variable among individuals. No two children with cerebral palsy experience the same effects, with a wide spectrum of impairments observed. Some individuals may have normal intelligence but face mild difficulties with mobility or balance, while others may experience severe cognitive and physical limitations, requiring full-time assistance for daily activities. As each child's condition is unique and changes over time, personalised management programs are essential to address their evolving needs as they grow.

  • Speech and communication challenges
  • Spastic (stiff muscles)
  • Athetoid (writhing movements)
  • Ataxic (poor balance and coordination)
  • Weakness (paresis)
  • Paralysis (plegia)
  • Trouble with sucking, chewing or eating
  • Drooling or trouble with swallowing
  • Learning disabilities
  • Delayed or stunted growth
  • Trouble hearing
  • Trouble with vision and changes in eye movements
  • Pain or trouble feeling sensations such as touch


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Types of Cerebral Palsy

Cerebral palsy presents in different forms, and we will examine the various types, and each type has distinct characteristics and affects individuals differently.

1. Quadriplegia (Involving all four limbs)

This form of cerebral palsy is the most frequently observed in India. It results from significant brain damage occurring on both sides of the brain, often due to insufficient oxygen supply during or after birth. Individuals affected by quadriplegia experience impaired or absent movements in both their arms and legs, accompanied by irregular muscle tension. 


2. Diplegic (Involving Both Legs)

Diplegic cerebral palsy primarily affects the lower limbs and is often observed in children who are born prematurely or have low birth weight. In this particular type of cerebral palsy, the impairment is more pronounced in the legs compared to the arms.


3. Hemiplegic (Involving One Side: Arm and Leg)

Hemiplegic cerebral palsy is characterised by the impairment of either the arm and leg on one side of the body. Typically, the arm is more severely affected than the lower extremities in this type. Commonly affected movements include the ability to raise the wrist and rotate the palm upward, along with fine thumb movements. In the lower limb, there is often a challenge in moving the foot upward and outward.


4. Monoplegic (Involving One Limb)

Monoplegic cerebral palsy is a relatively rare form of the condition that arises from minimal damage to specific brain areas. In this type, only one of the arms or legs is impaired, while the other limbs function typically.


5. Triplegic (Involving Both Legs and One Arm)

Triplegic cerebral palsy is also a seldom-seen variant of the condition. It typically occurs when there is an uneven distribution of brain damage, with one side of the brain being more affected than the other. 


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Diagnosis of Cerebral Palsy

When visiting a physician or paediatrician, a comprehensive assessment process is initiated, beginning with a thorough birth history inquiry. This involves a series of questions aimed at identifying potential risk factors associated with cerebral palsy. 


A meticulous physical examination follows, designed to assess the child's capacity to execute various motor tasks, identify muscle tone variations, detect coordination impairments, and observe the presence of abnormal involuntary movements.

  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)
  • Computed Tomography (CT Scan)
  • Electroencephalography (EEG)


How Can You Help Your Child With Cerebral Palsy?

While cerebral palsy cannot always be prevented, we will explore strategies and measures that can reduce the risk of certain causes, especially during pregnancy and childbirth. Early prenatal care and awareness play a crucial role in prevention.


Managing cerebral palsy involves a multidisciplinary approach.


1. Start therapies for cerebral palsy early

Early intervention services are crucial. These can include physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, and developmental therapies. Starting these therapies as early as possible can improve outcomes.


2. Give medical care to your child

Ensure that your child receives regular medical check-ups and treatments to manage any associated conditions or complications. Work closely with healthcare professionals to address their specific needs.


3. Provide them with adaptive equipment

Depending on your child's mobility and functional limitations, they may benefit from adaptive equipment such as wheelchairs, walkers, braces, or communication devices. These tools can help enhance their independence.


4. Modify home for child's safety

Make your home accessible by considering modifications like ramps, wider doorways, and accessible bathrooms. This can improve your child's mobility and safety. By learning the appropriate techniques to assist your child in exercising at home, you can facilitate muscle stretching, balance development, and pain reduction between their office visits.


5. Choose a personalised education plan

Advocate for an inclusive education plan that meets your child's educational needs. Work with teachers and special education professionals to create an individualised education plan (IEP) that supports their learning.


6. Provide your child emotional support

Provide emotional support and encouragement. Children with cerebral palsy may face frustration or feelings of being different. Be there to listen and offer reassurance.


7. Foster social interaction for your child

Encourage social interaction with peers. This can be through playdates, group activities, or involvement in special needs programs or support groups.


8. Encourage them to be active and eat a nutritious diet

Opting for nutritious foods that can promote the strengthening of bones and muscles is a prudent choice. Some children with cerebral palsy may have weakened bones, especially those who are unable to walk. While your child may not have the same sports abilities as their friends, it remains crucial to encourage them to engage in physical activity to the best of their capabilities. Support them in walking (if they are capable), playing, and staying active as much as possible.


If you observe any symptoms of a movement condition or notice delays in your child's development, it is crucial to promptly contact your child's healthcare professional. Similarly, if your child experiences episodes of loss of awareness or displays irregular bodily movements or postures, seeking medical attention is essential. Additionally, if your child encounters difficulties such as trouble swallowing, poor coordination, eye muscle imbalance, or any other developmental concerns, consulting with your child's healthcare provider is of utmost importance. Early intervention and diagnosis can make a significant difference in addressing potential health issues and ensuring your child receives appropriate care and support.


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Regular health checks are essential for everyone, but they are particularly important for individuals who are at risk of or already have cerebral palsy . Taking regular health checks can help detect cerebral palsy at an early stage when it is easier to manage and treat. With the UR.Life HRA, we help you to invest in your well-being through seamless interventions and targeted medical treatments. Our holistic wellness approach caters to all aspects of your well-being. We ensure that you can bring your whole self to work.



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