Five things to know about cerebral palsy

Cerebral palsy (CP) is the leading cause of physical disability in childhood worldwide, while it is estimated that over 17 million people around the world are affected.

  1. What is it?

CP is the term used to describe a group of conditions that affect movement, balance or posture, which is caused by damage to parts of the brain while it is still developing. The word “cerebral” refers to the brain, while “palsy” is the weakening or loss of motor function.

  1. What types of CP are there?

There are many forms of CP and no two cases are alike. How it is categorised is determined by the extent, type and part of the body affected. There are three main types of CP:

  • spastic (70-80%)– muscles appear stiff and tight
  • dyskinetic (6%) – abnormal, involuntary movements
  • ataxic (6%) – unsteady, shaky movements or tremors

It also affects different parts of the body:

  • hemiplegia (one side of the body is affected)
  • diplegia (both legs are affected)
  • quadriplegia (all four limbs are equally affected)

Spastic cerebral palsy is the most common type, but many children have a mixture of types. CP may be accompanied by speech and communication difficulties, altered visual perception, intellectual or learning disability, saliva control problems and epilepsy.

  1. How is it caused?

CP is not a disease and it is not hereditary. It is a life-long physical disability that occurs as a result of damage to the motor cortex of the brain, the part that affects muscle control and coordination. CP is often caused by damage that happens before or during a baby’s birth. While there are many different causes and the reason for CP isn’t always known, some causes can include: maternal infections, blood clotting disorders, problems during labour, very low birth weight or meningitis.

  1. How is it diagnosed?

Babies that are at risk for cerebral palsy are watched for signs of the condition including developmental delays, problems with motor skills, uncoordinated movements and muscle tone that is too lose or tight. If symptoms are mild, however, diagnosis may only be made when the baby is a toddler.

  1. Is there a cure?

CP is a permanent condition but resources and therapies are available to help children learn to cope with the condition and to improve their functional abilities and overall quality of life. Treatments are always highly individualised to suit the patient’s needs. As soon as there is a diagnosis, therapy can begin that that will provide relief from symptoms, improve joint flexibility, manage secondary symptoms and allow for greater independence. Medicine can also relieve muscle pain and stiffness.

Having CP doesn’t change someone’s personality and it doesn’t stop them from making friends, but there are many difficulties living with it. It is also challenging for the parent or caregiver of a child with CP and it can feel overwhelming.

At Sunshine Centre, we support children with intellectual, developmental and physical disabilities, their families and communities. The idea of the centre was born in 1976 and since then, various dedicated and remarkable men and women have given the Sunshine children the best possible start to life and have helped them grow to their greatest potential.

For more information about CP or to find out how you can make a difference in the life of a child with cerebral palsy, please contact 011 642 2005 or send an email to