Cerebral palsy, though commonly associated with impairment of motor function, is actually caused by brain damage that occurs while a child’s brain is still in its developing stages – before birth, during birth, or directly after birth. Due to this brain damage, those who are diagnosed with cerebral palsy have difficulty with body movement, muscle coordination, muscle tone, muscle control, reflex, balance, posture, and motor skill functions (fine, gross, and oral).
Each individual’s case of cerebral palsy damage due to the amount of brain damage that occurs, the time the brain damage occurs during a certain developmental phase in the brain, and the type of brain damage that occurs. According to Cerebralpalsy.org, the type of brain damage that causes cerebral palsy can be one (or more) of the following:
- Prenatal disturbance of brain cell migration – genetic and environmental factors disturb brain cell migration as cells move to their appropriate location during brain development.
- Prenatal poor myelination (insulation) of developing nerve cell fibers – brain function is impeded when poor myelin provides an inadequate protective covering over nerve cells that aid in the transmission.
- Perinatal brain cell death – events in the birthing process that rupture blood vessels or starve oxygen to the brain.
- Postnatal non-functional or inappropriate connections (synapses) between brain cells – trauma, infections, and asphyxia that damage connections developed in the brain.
Cerebral palsy was pioneered by Dr. William John Little in the mid 1800s, who used his own childhood disability as motivation for this discovery. In addition, Sir William Osler, an important figure in modern medicine, wrote the first book pertaining to cerebral palsy to help spread awareness. He came up with the idea that the disability was a result from abnormal fetal development – far before the medical field agreed with his concept.
According to Cerebralpalsy.org, “At different times, the U.S. government passed crucial legislation to modernize care and further rights of individuals with a disability. In 1963, President John F. Kennedy signed the Community Mental Health Act, which promoted community-based care as an alternative to institutionalization,” (History of Cerebral Palsy).
Medicine has played a large role in understanding cerebral palsy, along with diagnosing it. Technological advancements in medicine have aided those who have cerebral palsy, redefining what it means to live with a disability. In addition, blood typing medicine, similar to which is used to cure jaundice, and vaccine developments such as rubella, have helped, and continue to help, to prevent the development of cerebral palsy.
Many times, signs and symptoms of cerebral palsy are not apparent at birth, but when it comes to development and growth milestones, parents will likely notice a delay unusual from normal patterns. Today, about the amount of children with cerebral palsy ranges from about 2.3% to 3.6% out of 1,000 children.
Please stay tuned for the next blog post to find out about the preventative measures for cerebral palsy.