Around 34,000 Australians live with cerebral palsy – and 1 in every 500 babies is diagnosed with it. But cerebral palsy (or CP) is often misunderstood and stigmatised. Not all people with CP use a wheelchair, have an intellectual disability or are unable to speak.
This complex condition affects children and adults in different ways, with varying levels of severity, and many people with CP live a normal and healthy life. While the condition is permanent, CP isn’t progressive (meaning it doesn’t get worse over time) and CP can be managed.
To celebrate World Cerebral Palsy Day (Saturday October 6), we’ve tackled some of the common misconceptions around CP.
So, what is cerebral palsy?
Cerebral palsy (CP) is the most common physical disability in childhood. It’s an ‘umbrella term’ that covers a group of disorders affecting a person’s ability to move, and their posture.
It’s usually due to damage to the developing brain, experienced either during pregnancy or soon after birth. Cerebral means ‘of the brain’ and palsy refers to a ‘lack of muscle control’.
Children with cerebral palsy may have a range of physical and cognitive impairments:
- 1 in 3 is unable to walk
- 1 in 4 is unable to talk
- 1 in 2 has an intellectual impairment
- 1 in 4 has epilepsy
- 1 in 4 has bladder control problems
- 3 in 4 experience pain
You can read about the risk factors for, and signs of cerebral palsy here.
Cerebral palsy myths, busted
Myth: Cerebral palsy is caused by lack of oxygen at birth
Fact: Only a very small percentage of cases of CP are due to complications at birth (such as lack of oxygen) and in most cases, the cause is unknown. There is no single cause of CP.
Myth: All people with cerebral palsy have an intellectual disability
Fact: CP mainly affects movement and posture, and only half of people with it have an intellectual disability. The level of intellectual disability can vary from mild to severe.
Myth: All people with cerebral palsy are unable to speak
Fact: Only 1 in 4 people with CP are unable to speak. And that doesn’t mean they can’t communicate; from arranging pictures in books to eye-gaze control technology, there are many ways for people living with CP to convey their needs and wants.
Myth: People with cerebral palsy don’t live that long
Fact: Most people with CP are healthy and can expect to live for as long as the average person in the general population. Although labour force participation is low among people with disability in Australia, many people with CP are also able to live independently and enjoy long careers.
Myth: Kids with cerebral palsy have poor quality of life
Fact: Most young people with CP are healthy and enjoy meaningful study, hobbies and sport. A European survey of 431 adolescents with CP found their quality of life to be on par with their able-bodied peers; the only area in which they reported lower quality of life was ‘social support from friends and peers’.
Myth: People with cerebral palsy can’t have children
Fact: There is no evidence to suggest that CP affects fertility and since it’s not considered to be hereditary, the chance of a woman with CP having a baby with CP is no different from that of any other person.
Where to get more information
If you’d like to learn more about cerebral palsy, or find out how to support people with CP, check out these organisations.
- The Cerebral Palsy Alliance provides family-centred therapies, life skills programs, equipment and support for people and their families living with cerebral palsy and other neurological and physical disabilities.
- Cerebral Palsy Australia is a peak body comprising organisations that work with people with cerebral palsy and those with similar disabilities and their carers.
- If you, or someone you know, has cerebral palsy and need support, visit the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) to find out if you, or the person, are eligible to join the NDIS.
- If you think your child is showing some of the symptoms of cerebral palsy, or their development may be delayed, see your early childhood nurse or GP. If you’re not sure what to do, you can call the healthdirect helpline on 1800 022 222 or Pregnancy, Birth and Baby on 1800 882 436.
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