Spotlight on Cerebral Palsy

Cerebral Palsy (CP) is the term used to describe a group of conditions that affect movement and posture, and which are the result of damage to the brain while it is still developing. The word cerebral refers to the brain, while palsy is the weakening or loss of motor function.


CP is not a disease and it is not hereditary. It can occur before, during or after birth, with research showing that the majority of cases occur before birth. There are many causes of CP, including maternal infections, blood clotting disorders, problems during labour, very low birth weight and meningitis.

It is estimated that there are 2 cases of CP per 1 000 live births, and while it is seldom found more than once in the same family, it is the most common form of childhood disability in South Africa.


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

  • spastic (stiff muscles)
  • athetoid (fluctuating muscle tone)
  • ataxic (unsteady gait and tremor)

Where it’s classified according to the part of the body affected, there is:

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

Spastic cerebral palsy is the most common type, but many people have a mixture of types. CP may be accompanied by speech and communication difficulties, altered visual perception, intellectual impairment and epilepsy.


There is no cure for CP but there are many interventions available to improve the functional ability of the child. This greatly enriches the quality of life of the child and his or her family. A functional outcomes approach is used for children with CP, who attend the Sunshine Association’s early intervention centres.

Professor Faith Bischof is a consulting physiotherapist to Sunshine Association, and she is also the Chairman of the National Association for Persons with Cerebral Palsy (NAPCP). The NAPCP is a national body that has been in existence for many years, with the aim of promoting the best possible legislative dispensation for persons with CP.

The NAPCP co-ordinates the activities of existing organisations and institutions, providing services for persons with CP. It holds a national conference on CP every year, with the 2015 conference being held in May at Hope School in Johannesburg. Professor Bischof presented a paper at the event and three other Sunshine Association therapists also attended.

Want to know how you can help? Do you need more information on CP or the NAPCP? Please visit