What’s Cerebral Palsy?

Taken from ‘Cerebral Palsy: A Complete Guide for Caregiving‘ by Freeman Miller, M.D. and Steven J. Bachrach, M.D.

What is Cerebral Palsy?

Cerebral Palsy is a collection of motor disorders resulting from damage to the brain that occurs before, during, or after birth. The damage to the child’s brain affects the motor system, and as a result the child has poor coordination, poor balance, or abnormal movement patterns – or a combination of these characteristics.

Cerebral Palsy (CP) is a static disorder of the brain, not a progressive disorder. This means that the disorder or disease process will not get worse as time goes on. Nor are motor disorders associated with cerebral palsy temporary. Therefore, a child who has temporary motor problems, does not have cerebral palsy. Children with cerebral palsy may have many other kinds of problems, including medical problems. Most of these problems are related to brain injury. They include epilepsy, mental retardation, learning disabilities, and/or attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder.

Congenital cerebral palsy (or cerebral palsy that exists from birth) is responsible for the largest proportion of cases of cerebral palsy. For a small percentage of children, injuries sustained during the birthing process or in early childhood may be considered the cause of  cerebral palsy. When motor disorders appear after age 5, they are slightly different motor disorders of cerebral palsy and are usually diagnosed as they would be in an adult, as stroke or traumatic brain injury.

Cerebral Palsy is one of the more common congenital problems: of every 2,000 infants born, 5 are born with cerebral palsy. This incidence had remained constant for over 30 years, despite advances in obstetrical and pediatric care, but began to rise slightly in the last years of the twentieth century in the United States and other industrialized countries. Although improvements in medical care have decreased the incidence of CP among some children who would otherwise have developed the disorder, medical advances have also resulted in the survival of children who previously would have died at a young age, and many of these children survive with an impairment or a disability such as cerebral palsy.

What has also changed is the type of cerebral palsy that is most prevalent in the developed Western world. In the 1960s in the United States 20 percent of all children with cerebral palsy had athetoid cerebral palsy, a type of CP caused by hyperbilirubinemia and characterized by slow, writhing involuntary movements. Today only 5 or 10 percent of children have this type of CP, and 80 to 90 percent have spastic CP. The decrease is mainly due to advances in the treatment of hyperbilirubinemia. At the same time, spastic cerebral palsy, characterized by rigidity in muscles, which causes stiffness and restricted movement, has become more prevalent because intensive care for newborns results in higher survival rates for very small premature babies. These babies are at high risk of developing spastic cerebral palsy: between 5 and 8 percent of premature infants under 1,500 grams (3 lb.5 oz.) who survive have cerebral palsy.

Finding a Community

Books for Children

  • Michelle Emmert, I’m the Big Sister Now
  • Joan Foster, Howie Helps Himself
  • Mel Levine, Keeping Ahead in School

Ages 4-8

  • Mary Elizabeth Anderson, Taking Cerebral Palsy to School
  • Jamee Heelan, Rolling Along: The Story of Taylor and His Wheelchair
  • Paul Pimm, Living with Cerebral Palsy
  • Ron Taylor, All by Myself

Ages 9-12

  • Thomas Berman, Going Places: Children Living with Cerebral Palsy
  • Marilyn Gould, Golden Daffodils
  • Shelley Nixon, From Where I Sit: Making My Way with Cerebral Palsy


There are companies that specialize in toys for disabled children. The individual interests of the reader will vary, but a few of the larger sites are listed here. You can surf the net for days and probably not see all the sites available.

By far, the most informative list of toys and products that is available for the child with disabilities is this toy catalogue for children with special needs in Wisconsin First Step.

Other useful sites include:

Adaptive Clothing – Special Clothes, Inc

Adaptive Toys For Special Needs Disabled Children

Family Village