The Challenges of Living with Cerebral Palsy

Cerebral palsy (CP) is a group of disorders that affect a person's ability to move and maintain balance and posture. It can cause a range of physical and cognitive difficulties, from muscle spasms and impaired motor skills to learning disabilities and behavioral issues. People with cerebral palsy may also experience secondary conditions such as dysphagia, gastroesophageal reflux, and difficulty communicating. In addition, those with severe physical disabilities are at greater risk of hip problems, while those with cognitive disabilities may need extra support in the form of homeschooling or special education.

Ataxic cerebral palsy affects balance and depth perception, making it difficult to sit with their backs straight or walk. It can also affect the muscles that open and close the mouth and move the lips and tongue, making it hard to chew and swallow food and drink. People with cerebral palsy may also have difficulty using cutlery, holding a cup, or transferring food from a plate to their mouths with their hands. Gastroesophageal reflux is another common issue for people with cerebral palsy, in which stomach acid rises into the esophagus, making eating uncomfortable or painful.

This can be managed with medication in some cases. For those with more severe forms of cerebral palsy, feeding tubes may be necessary. Cerebral palsy can also cause specific learning difficulties, such as a short attention span, motor planning difficulties (organization and sequencing), perceptual difficulties, language difficulties, and difficulty coordinating and communicating fine motor skills and gross motor skills. As a result, students with cerebral palsy may tire more easily than their peers.

Behavioral problems are also common in children with cerebral palsy. These can include dependency, stubbornness, hyperactivity, anxiety, conflict with peers, antisocial behavior, emotional problems such as difficulty connecting with peers, depression, and anxiety disorders. Abnormalities of the spine and hips are associated with cerebral palsy and can make it difficult to sit, stand and walk, as well as cause chronic pain. Those who use wheelchairs most of the time are more at risk of hip problems than those who walk with assistive devices or on their own.

Communication problems are among the top challenges for parents of children with cerebral palsy. However, patience and the right treatment plan can make things much easier. Cerebral palsy is caused by brain injury or brain malformation that occurs during fetal development, at birth, or after birth while the brain is still developing. People with the most severe forms of cerebral palsy are more likely than others to have high myopia, lack of binocular fusion, dyskinetic strabismus (also known as “turning around” or “squinting”), severe eye dysfunction, and optic neuropathy or cerebral visual impairment (CVI).

With the right guidance and support, your child can successfully live with cerebral palsy and overcome any secondary challenges. The brain disorder that causes cerebral palsy doesn't change over time so symptoms don't usually worsen with age. If your child has cognitive disabilities, homeschooling and special education can help give him the boost he needs. For those with limited mobility, activities such as throwing a ball from one side to the other may be beneficial. For those who experience muscle spasms associated with cerebral palsy or other forms of musculoskeletal pain or decreased ability to change body position during the night, daily life can be disrupted. Overall, living with cerebral palsy can be challenging but it is possible to manage these challenges with patience and the right treatment plan.