Learning About and Living With Cerebral Palsy

Disabled young boy in wheelchair smiling and happily looking at camera in his living room

The human brain is a marvel of complexity. Consisting of 100 billion neurons, each of them connected to 10,000 others, it has been described as the most complicated object in the known universe.[i] Although scientists have learned that plasticity within the brain gives it the ability to create new neuropathways when there is disruption to parts of the existing brain structure, abnormal brain development or an adverse event causing serious brain damage can lead to permanent disability. When these brain abnormalities or traumas occur to a developing brain during pregnancy, birth or in the first two to three years of a child’s life, they can lead to a disorder called cerebral palsy (CP) – the most common motor disability in children. Although one out of every 400 Canadians is diagnosed with the condition,[ii] it is safe to say many people have limited knowledge about cerebral palsy. But, if you are a new parent who has just learned that your child will receive a CP diagnosis, you will likely want to learn all you can about how this brain damage occurred and what you can do to help your child manage this condition. In this blog I outline the four types of CP, describe common symptoms, list the most frequent causes of this disorder, and explain how you may be entitled to monetary damages if a medical professional’s negligence caused or contributed to this brain damage.  

Four types of Cerebral Palsy

Each person experiences cerebral palsy differently and may have a unique combination of symptoms. However, when CP is diagnosed it is classified as one of four types:

  1. Spastic Cerebral Palsy: The most common form of CP causes increased muscle tone that results in stiff muscles and awkward movement. A person experiencing spastic CP can have a diagnosis that further specifies which parts of the body are affected.
  2. Dyskinetic Cerebral Palsy: This type of CP makes it difficult for a person to control the movements of their limbs and can lead to uncontrollable movement. Changes in muscle tone from tightness to looseness may occur frequently – even over the course of a single day.
  3. Ataxic Cerebral Palsy: People with ataxic CP have difficulty with balance, coordination, and unsteadiness. Complex motor actions that require a high degree of muscle control may be especially difficult.
  4. Mixed Cerebral Palsy: The CP diagnosis is made when a person has more than one of the three types of CP noted above.  

Cerebral Palsy symptoms

Although every person will experience CP differently, some common symptoms[iii] include:

  • rigid or loose muscle tone
  • lack of balance, coordination, or other difficulty walking (awkward gait)
  • tremors, involuntary movements, or seizures
  • slow or writhing motions
  • favouring one side of the body
  • difficulty eating, sucking, or swallowing and excessive drooling
  • motor skill or speech milestone delays
  • fine motor skill challenges
  • learning disabilities
  • other neurological issues, such as: difficulty seeing or hearing, intellectual disabilities, abnormal touch or pain sensations, oral health diseases, and mental health conditions.

What causes Cerebral Palsy?

The cause of cerebral palsy is often unknown, but factors that can lead to problems with brain development include:

  • fetal stroke
  • lack of oxygen to the brain related to a difficult birth
  • gene mutations leading abnormal development
  • maternal infections affecting the developing fetus
  • infant infections causing inflammation in or around the brain
  • a traumatic head injury to an infant post-birth
  • untreated infant jaundice

In addition, certain risk factors in pregnancy or birth increase the chance of CP. These include: birth in the breach position (feet first), multiple births, low birth weight, and premature birth.  

What can be done if your child has Cerebral Palsy?

Although there is no cure for CP, early interventions, medication, and physical therapies can lead to better outcomes as your child develops and can improve their quality of life. Muscle relaxants or injections are often prescribed to improve functional abilities, reduce pain and/or manage complications. Physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech and language therapy and recreational therapy have all been used to improve motor skill development, adapt to their abilities, and help children gain independence. These therapies, assistive aids and, in more serious cases, ongoing medical and attendant care can be very expensive. Although private insurance and public health care services cover some of these treatments and interventions, parents and caregivers of people with CP may still be required to pay out of pocket for some of these medical needs. Moreover, a person with significant and severe disabilities caused by CP may not be able to live independently or provide for themselves in adulthood. While the factors causing CP are sometimes natural or unavoidable, in other cases proper medical care could have prevented brain abnormalities associated with CP. From regular check-ups and monitoring by doctors during pregnancy to choices made and actions taken (or not taken) during difficult births or in infancy, medical professionals can significantly reduce the likelihood that a problem during or after pregnancy could lead to CP. If you believe medical negligence caused or contributed to your child’s CP, or if you are unsure as to its cause and believe an investigation may reveal such negligence played a role, you may want to consider contacting a birth injury lawyer to examine your case and medical files. Although establishing medical negligence causing harm can be difficult, an award or settlement for damages could significantly assist you and your child as you manage life with a CP diagnosis. At Gluckstein Lawyers, our team of compassionate and caring medical malpractice lawyers can help you learn about your options and connect you with a variety of resources to help you and your loved one. It is part of our commitment to full circle client care. To learn more about our services or to inquire about a preliminary investigation of your case, please contact Jan Marin.

[i]Behold the Most Complicated Object in the Known Universe | The Leonard Lopate Show | WNYC

[ii]Cerebral Palsy | CanChild

[iii]Cerebral palsy - Symptoms and causes - Mayo Clinic


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