It’s March, which means many of us are pulling out our green clothes in anticipation of St. Patrick’s Day on March 17. There’s also another reason to wear green this month – National Cerebral Palsy Awareness Month. Green is the official color of cerebral palsy (CP) awareness, and it represents the hope for advancements in treatment and acceptance.
Wearing green is a great way to show your support for CP. You can also learn more about cerebral palsy. Here are some quick facts about cerebral palsy to get you started.
What is Cerebral Palsy?
The CDC defines cerebral palsy as a group of disorders that affect the part of the brain that controls muscle movement. Most individuals with cerebral palsy are born with it or develop it during or soon after birth. CP that occurs before or during birth is known as congenital CP, and this accounts for 85-95% of individuals with cerebral palsy. Rarely, CP can result from brain damage that occurs more than 28 days after birth. This is known as acquired CP, and it is usually associated with head injuries or infections, such as meningitis.
Early signs of CP include lack of muscle coordination, stiff or tight muscles and exaggerated reflexes, dragging one foot or leg while walking, a crouched or “scissored” gait, and muscle tone that is either too tight or too loose. These signs generally appear before a child turns three.
Because cerebral palsy refers to a range of disorders, effects and severity vary from person to person. For example, although some individuals with CP have trouble walking, the CDC’s Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network (ADDM) found that over half of children with CP (58.2%) could walk independently.
Cerebral palsy does not affect life expectancy. It also does not affect intelligence. Children with CP often have average to above average intelligence and attend the same schools as their peers.
How Common is Cerebral Palsy?
Cerebral palsy is the most common motor disability in childhood. The ADDM estimates that 1 in 323 children has cerebral palsy.
What Co-Occurring Conditions are Common?
Children with cerebral palsy have an increased risk of co-occurring conditions, including other developmental disabilities or neurological conditions. One study of individuals with CP in metropolitan Atlanta found that roughly 60% of eight-year-old children with CP had another developmental disability.
Intellectual disability and autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are the most common co-occurring developmental disabilities. The ADDM reports that 40% of children with CP had an intellectual disability, and 6.9% had ASD.
Children with CP are also at a higher risk of developing other conditions, the most common of which is epilepsy. Roughly 40% of children with CP had co-occurring epilepsy. About 25% of the children in these studies had both epilepsy and an intellectual disability.
What are the Different Types of Cerebral Palsy?
The CDC identifies four main types of cerebral palsy: spastic, dyskinetic, ataxic, and mixed cerebral palsy.
Spastic cerebral palsy is the most common type, affecting an estimated 77.4% of people with CP. Individuals with spastic CP have increased muscle tone, which means that their muscles are stiff, often resulting in awkward movements.
Dyskinetic cerebral palsy affects individuals’ abilities to control the movement of their limbs, making it difficult to sit and walk. Individuals with dyskinetic CP have muscle tone that varies between too tight and too loose. This muscle tone can vary from day to day or within a single day.
Individuals with ataxic cerebral palsy have trouble with balance and coordination. This can affect their abilities to walk and/or to perform movements that are quick or require a lot of control, like writing.
Mixed cerebral palsy refers to individuals who show symptoms of more than one type of CP. The most common form of mixed CP is spastic-dyskinetic CP.
What are the Risk Factors?
Injuries or infections are known to cause acquired CP, which accounts for a small percentage of individuals with CP. For the majority of individuals with CP, however, the specific cause is not known. Until recently, the primary cause was thought to be lack of oxygen during birth. Now, however, scientists estimate that this causes only a small number of CP cases.
Some risk factors of CP include low birthweight, premature birth, infections during pregnancy, jaundice and kernicterus, certain medical conditions of the mother, and birth complications.
Because the cause of congenital CP is not fully known, little can be done to prevent it. However, expecting mothers can reduce risk factors by treating any conditions before becoming pregnant, if possible, and by getting early and regular prenatal care.