Cerebral Palsy Program CP Glossary

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This reference guide provides definitions for terms commonly used when discussing different types of cerebral palsy. 

A-C       D-F       G-I       J-L       M-O       P-R       S-T       U-Z 


An outward movement of an arm of leg away from the body.

Adaptive behavior
The ability to adjust to new experiences, meet new people and participate in new activities.

Adaptive equipment
Equipment that supports a child's positioning needs such as seating, standing, positioning and mobility.

The inward movement of an arm or leg toward the body.

The partial loss of vision that may be caused by nearsightedness, farsightedness, stabismus or other eye problems. Also known as lazy eye.

Refers to the ability to walk.

Ankle foot orthosis (AFO)
A short leg brace, usually made of lightweight plastic that is worn inside the shoe. An AFO helps with better positioning of the feet.

Medications which can help children who experience dystonia (rigidy) and uncontrollable drooling.

Medication used to control seizures.

Medication which can reduce muscle spasms and relax tightness in the muscles.

Condition caused by poor oxygen intake when breathing.

To draw something into the lungs by inhaling.

Assistive and augmentative communication (ACC)
The practice of helping children to communicate.

Unbalanced of jerking body movements.

Uncontrolled bodily movements.

Lack of muscle strength.

Weakening of muscle tissue due to lack of use.


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Medication that is used to treat muscle spasticity.

Baclofen Pump
Treatment for spasticity and pain caused by cerebral palsy. The pump, implanted by a neurosurgeon, delivers precisely measured dosages of the drug Baclofen directly to the child’s spinal fluid.

Relating to both sides of the body.

Medication that is delivered by an injection. It is uses with physical therapy to help relax spastic muscles and improve function.


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Part of the brain that helps to control movement and balance.

Quick, jerky movements of the head and limbs.

A condition characterized by extreme range of motion, changeable muscle tone and uncontrollable movements of the limbs.

Rapid, rhythmic movement that may occur in spastic muscles.

The act of perceiving, thinking, reasoning and analyzing.

Computerized Tomography (CT) scans
A diagnostic test which uses X-rays and computer technology to produce cross-sectional images of any part of the body (including bones, muscles and organs).

Conductive education
An intensive learning program designed to help children with motor disorders to improve bodily movement and function.

Permanent contraction of a muscle.

Involuntary contraction and relaxation of muscles. A seizure may happen in the form of convulsions.

Cortical blindness
Partial or total blindness due to injury in the brain's visual centers.


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Developmental delay
Slower rate of development for a child. A child with a developmental delay functions at a level below other children of the same age.

Developmental disability
A condition that may prevent physical and/or cognitive development. Cerebral Palsy is considered a developmental disability.

Developmental milestone
A skill that is associated with a certain age.

Form of cerebral palsy primarily affecting the legs.

Difficulty speaking due to problems with muscles used to speak.

Abnormal and uncontrolled bodily movement.

The brain's inability to plan muscle movements and carry them out.

Rigidity and poor tone throughout the muscles. 

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Refers to a person's involuntarily repetition of phrases or words just heard without knowing their meaning.

Epilepsy (seizure disorder)
Condition characterized by sudden, brief attacks of altered consciousness or motor activity.

Walking on tiptoes due to the shortening of the calf muscles.

Condition in which one or both eyes turn inward.

Condition in which an eye turns outward.


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Fine motor
Refers to the use of a person's hands to manipulate objects.

Flexion deformity
Joint muscle that is not normal.

Fluctuating tone
Combination of low and high muscle tone.


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Gross motor
The use of a person's large muscles to move, for example walking, jumping and running.

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Form of cerebral palsy in which one arm and one leg on the same side of the body are affected.

High Tone
Term used to describe tight or spastic muscles.

Increased tension in the muscles.

Decreased tension in the muscles.


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The positioning of a patient's limbs to discourage muscle tightness.


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Low tone
Term used to describe decreased muscle tone.


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Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)
A diagnostic test which uses a combination of large magnets, radiofrequency waves and a special computer to create detailed pictures of organs and structures within the body.

Refers to difficulties with one arm or one leg as a result of a brain injury. It is a mild form of hemiplegia.

Motor Planning
Person's ability to think through and physically carry out a task.

Muscle tone
The amount of tension or resistance to movement in a muscle.


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A term that describes a process involving both nerves and muscles.

Jerky involuntary movement of the eyes.


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Oral motor skills
Skills used to speak and eat.

An orthopedic device made of plastic and inserted into a shoe to help stabilize the foot and ankle.

Surgical procedure that cuts a bone and resets it to a corrected position.

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Medication used to control seizures.

Primitive reflexes
Reflexes seen in infants that usually disappear at about 6 months of age. In children with cerebral palsy, these reflexes may last much longer.


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Type of cerebral palsy that affects all four limbs.


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Range of motion(ROM)
The amount of movement present at a person's joint.

Receptive language
A child's ability to understand spoken language.

Reciprocal movement
Alternate movements of arms and legs seen in walking and other normal movements.

Involuntary movement of a muscle after stimulation.

The loss of skills that a person already had.

Respite care
Care for a child with a disability by a specialized babysitter or given in an institutional setting. This care gives the child's usual caregiver (a parent or guardian) a break from provider the care.

Neurosurgical procedure that cuts certain spinal nerves in order to reduce spasticity and improve movement and postures.

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Abnormal muscle tone that causes the legs to cross when a child is upright or standing.

Involuntary movement or chances in consciousness brought on by bursts of electrical activity in the brain.

Sensorineural hearing loss
Hearing loss caused by damage to the inner ear, auditory nerve or both.

Sensory integration (SI)
The ability to process sensory information. A SI deficit is the result of insufficient neurological processing. It can take many forms, including an over or under sensitivity to sensory cues such as taste, smell, touch, sound and sight. Some children may have problems with motor coordination.

Serial casts
Casts placed on a child's feet in weekly intervals so that the feet are gradually stretched and molded into proper alignment.

Term used to describe increases muscle tone or stiff muscles.

Spastic diplegia
("di" means two): spastic movements of the arms or legs. (this is also sometimes called paraplegia).

Spastic quadriplegia
("quad" means four): spastic movements in all four limbs (both arms and legs).

Spastic hemiplegia
"hemi" means half): spasticity affecting one half, or one side, of the body (for example, the right arm and right leg).

Spastic double hemiplegia
Spasticity in both sides of the body, although the extent of shaking is different on one side compared to the other.

Condition in which a person's eye turns in.

Term used for partial dislocation.

A group of symptoms or traits that indicate a particular condition.

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Diagnostic test which uses invisible electromagnetic energy beams to produce images of internal tissues, bones and organs.

The future of pediatrics will be forged by thinking differently, breaking paradigms and joining together in a shared vision of tackling the toughest challenges before us.”
- Sandra L. Fenwick, President and CEO

Boston Children's Hospital 300 Longwood Avenue, Boston, MA 02115 617-355-6000 | 800-355-7944