Frequently Asked Questions about Cerebral Palsy

When you have a child that is diagnosed with cerebral palsy, it’s natural to have a few questions. Once you get past speaking to the doctor and assessing what your options are for the next few weeks of testing, the reality sets in. How did this happen? How will it affect your life and your child’s life? How do you know how best to take care of your child?

Although you’ll probably have a myriad of questions as you get accustomed to your child’s disorder, it’s important to remember that millions of families have and are currently experiencing the same uncertainties. However, education is key and will help you weave through these concerns. The following are among a few of the most pertinent questions asked about cerebral palsy.

How Did My Baby Get Cerebral Palsy?

Doctors aren’t 100% sure how a child gets cerebral palsy, or at least they don’t know all of the ways a child develops it. Doctors do know, however, that in 90% of cases, children are born with it, and the remaining 10% are the victims of birth injuries from medical malpractice.

The 10% is the easiest to understand as cerebral palsy is a brain injury sustained at birth, often as a result of oxygen deprivation or of the brain being compressed for too long. For the 90% of cases that happen during pregnancy, doctors are still trying to figure out how a brain injury due to oxygen deprivation or brain compression could be endured during pregnancy.

Is Cerebral Palsy Genetic?

Cerebral palsy is not genetic; it is a disorder that can sometimes result from a brain injury experienced at birth, but in most instances, physicians are unsure of its cause. It is not, however, a disease that is passed along through DNA. In fact, cerebral palsy can no more be passed along through the DNA than any other injury such as a broken bone or a laceration.

Is Cerebral Palsy a Disease or a Disability?

Cerebral palsy is a disorder marked with various disabilities. A disease is generally an illness that is not the direct result of an injury and is often caused by bacteria, viruses or from genetic predisposition. Cerebral palsy can be caused via brain injuries and oxygen deprivation, but it’s not an illness that is contagious or a disease that can be passed along genetically, as mentioned earlier.

Is Cerebral Palsy a Muscle Disorder?

Many people see that individuals with cerebral palsy have a hard time with balance and with coordinating their movements and assume that it is a muscle disorder. Instead, cerebral palsy is a brain injury which affects the cerebellum, the part of the brain that controls motor function. Because the areas of the brain that control the muscular system are dormant, it causes an inactivity, spasticity, or lack of coordination in muscles which are linked to the damaged parts of the motor control center.

Is Cerebral Palsy Degenerative?

Cerebral palsy is not degenerative. When a child is diagnosed with cerebral palsy, doctors know that the disability will not get worse with the passage of time. Instead, a child’s case of cerebral palsy can improve with consistent exercise and regular sessions with a variety of healthcare specialists, including speech and language therapists, psychologists, occupational therapists, and orthopedic surgeons.

Can You Die from Cerebral Palsy?

You can not die from cerebral palsy. However, some children with severe disabilities due to the disorder may die from the complications that arise.

For example, children with cerebral palsy who cannot feed themselves are often malnourished and underweight, which can lead to life-threatening problems. In addition, children with severe cases of lack of muscle control are more prone to severe accidents that may lead to life-threatening head injuries.

Going to regularly-scheduled sessions with therapists, following an exercise plan, and maintaining a healthy diet are all things that can enhance a child’s life expectancy, even if he or she has a severe form of cerebral palsy.

What is the Life Expectancy for a Child with Cerebral Palsy?

In some instances, infants who have the most severe form of the disability in conjunction with other medical conditions die within a matter of days. Other children with severe symptoms and disabilities should be watched carefully. Statistics indicate that children who can’t sit up unaided by the time they’re 4 years old will never be able to walk and only have a 40% chance of living until age 20. Children who can sit up unaided before 2 years old, however, have a 95% chance of living past age 20 and can have a relatively normal life despite limitations.

What Challenges Will My Infant Face as an Adult with Cerebral Palsy?

Although medical advances have a come a long way, there are still many issues that children with cerebral palsy will face as adults. Of course, these issues will depend upon the severity of the disorder and how well each person reacts to different forms of treatment. A few of the problems children may experience as adults with cerebral palsy include:

Work Challenges

Although accommodations have to be made in accordance to the Americans With Disabilities Act and other laws, adults with cerebral palsy may face day-to-day functioning challenges in the workplace.


Even if a child doesn’t experience musculoskeletal discomfort, that may change as their grow older. Adults with cerebral palsy are prone to osteoarthritis as well as degenerative arthritis.

Mild to Severe Pain

Many children will go through childhood and even early adulthood with relatively little pain in association with cerebral palsy. As they grow older, however, pain in the hips, knees, ankles, and back may surface. For those who experience pain associated with the disorder, the pain may heighten.The best pain treatment involves preventative measures, including extensive correction of musculoskeletal abnormalities early in a child’s life.

Premature Aging

People with cerebral palsy have a higher risk of suffering  the effects of premature aging. It affects disabled men and women once they reach their early to mid-40s and is largely due to the physical and emotional strains placed on their bodies. Since the organs have to work harder in those with cerebral palsy, the aging process takes more of a toll on persons with the condition  than on people who don’t have it. Living with cerebral palsy has been associated with both anxiety and depression, both which can accelerate the onset of premature aging.

What Are the Best Treatment Options For Cerebral Palsy?

Cerebral palsy is a wide-spectrum disorder, meaning although two children may have cerebral palsy, it doesn’t mean that their symptoms will be similar. While some children may only experience spastic movements, others may experience more pronounced spastic movements along with cognitive disorders. One child may have no control at all over bodily movements, while another child may be able to control movements with little or no assistance. Therefore, treatment will greatly depend upon each individual circumstance. Some of the common types of treatment, however, consist of:

  • Antispasmodic medication
  • Physical therapy
  • Occupational therapy
  • Braces, splints, and specialized equipment to help with movement
  • Orthopedic surgery
  • Selective dorsal rhizotomy
  • Medicinal-related surgery