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Cerebral Palsy (CP) in Children

  • When I was a few weeks old, my dad and mom noticed I was not progressing like their friends' kids and, after the medical exam, doctors told my parents I would be a vegetable. To this day, I don't know what kind of vegetable I'm supposed to be!

    --Rick Hoyt, an adult patient with cerebral palsy at Boston Children's Hospital

    When you hear the term “cerebral palsy,” you may envision a specific illness with very particular symptoms. But did you know that cerebral palsy (CP) is actually a broad term that covers several different disorders? This means that kids with CP have a wide variety of symptoms and experiences—and many different abilities.

    What is Cerebral Palsy?

    Cerebral palsy is a chronic condition (occurring throughout a child’s lifetime) that:

    • involves some type of injury or disruption to the brain
    • affects communication between the brain and the muscles
    • causes uncoordinated movements and postures

    Sometimes, cerebral palsy occurs as a complication of another condition, like premature birth, low birthweight or neurological trauma. However, it often occurs for no identifiable reason. 

    • For some kids, cerebral palsy only affects their legs. This is called diplegia.
    • Other children only have symptoms on one side of the body. This is known as hemiplegia.
    • CP can cause muscle tone to be too high (this is called spasticity) or too low (which causes problems with balance).
    • Children with cerebral palsy can experience involuntary muscle movements, referred to as dyskinetic movements.
    • And some kids with CP have rigidity in their legs or arms. This is called dystonia.
    • Although CP is a lifelong condition that can’t be reversed, there are many ways to medically and surgically manage the disorder and its symptoms.

    The information on the following pages will help you learn the basics about CP and know what to expect in the days and months ahead. 

    How Boston Children's Hospital approaches cerebral palsy

    Here in Boston Children's Hospital Cerebral Palsy Program, we’re dedicated to helping kids and adults with CP enjoy a great quality of life. 

    Since “cerebral palsy” is actually a term that covers several different types of brain injury, it's important to seek treatment from experts who understand:

    • that a child's CP symptoms might not match any given “textbook” example
    • that many parts of a child’s body may be affected by CP
    • how and why other medical conditions can occur alongside CP
    • the vital role of orthopedic support in helping kids with CP 

    Our program provides interdisciplinary evaluation and treatment for children with cerebral palsy and other neuromuscular conditions. We combine expertise in orthopedic surgery and neurosurgery, among several other specialties, to improve the functional capabilities of more than 2,000 patients of all ages each year.

    Our team is dedicated to delivering knowledgeable, compassionate care in a family-centered atmosphere. We are focused on maximizing your child’s functional independence, stability and quality of life while offering support for your entire family. 

    Cerebral palsy:
    Reviewed by Brian Snyder, MD, PhD, and Benjamin Warf, MD

    © Boston Children's Hospital; posted in 2011

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