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What is Cerebral Palsy? How does the diagnosis help your child?

Cerebral Palsy (CP) is the most common cause of motor disability in children. CP is the result of an early brain injury or disturbance during early brain development leading to problems related to movement and posture.

The term cerebral palsy describes a group of movement disorders not a single condition. 
Receiving a diagnosis of CP is not always a straightforward path and there is no single test to determine with complete certainty that a child has cerebral palsy. Screening for CP is often done when a child has risk factors for developing cerebral palsy or when a child is delayed in meeting certain developmental milestones.

It is important to keep in mind that not all children who miss or are delayed achieving developmental milestones have CP. A CP diagnosis is often given when other diagnoses or reasons for a child’s developmental delays are excluded. The information from clinical evaluations will be considered along with imaging of the child’s brain including head ultrasounds and MRIs. Other tests may include a combination of genetic and metabolic investigations.

Parents often become confused about how conditions such as infant stroke, infant asphyxia, static encephalopathy, periventricular leukomalacia (PVL), genetic alterations and others relate to CP. These problems are part of the umbrella of conditions that may lead to the disturbances in brain development that cause CP. However, the therapists and physicians will use the term that best describes your child’s set of problems that will require specific management. Nevertheless, it is important to understand that each child with CP is unique with different clinical presentation and severity requiring a tailored treatment.

Obtaining a diagnosis of cerebral palsy is always difficult for the family. However, over time and with specialized guidance and support, the process becomes less overwhelming. Having a diagnosis of CP impacts many aspects of care. It is important as it allows family to concentrate in gathering energy and resources to better help the child, which will also provide more defined pathway to strategically organize thoughts and actions around your child’s specific problems. In addition, a CP diagnosis signals the need for screening and monitoring for conditions that may accompany this disorder, such as seizures, visual impairment, and musculoskeletal problems.

 

Currently there is no cure for the original brain injury or lesion that led to CP. And at this time, there is no cure for the movement disorders of CP that came from those initial events. However, there are many different therapies, surgical interventions, medications and equipment and technology that can help reduce the symptoms of CP, its impact on the body, and improve the child’s quality of life.

Regardless of when and if the diagnosis of cerebral palsy is made, it is critical that children who are considered “at risk for cerebral palsy” are identified as early as possible so they have access to support and services while the brain is still in early development.

It is important to remember a CP diagnosis does not define your child or their future. But it enables you and their medical team to provide on the specific interventions that will make a difference for your child.

 

 

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