What is Cerebral Palsy?

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Cerebral palsy

Cerebral palsy (CP) is an umbrella term for a type of motor disorder (a form of physical disability) caused by damage to the immature or developing brain that occurs before, during or immediately after the birth of the child. The type of cerebral palsy, and its severity, depends upon the size, location and timing of the brain damage.

The current UK incidence rate is about 1 in 400 births (which means about 1,800 children, from all social backgrounds and ethnic groups, are diagnosed every year, and about 250 per year in the region in which Pace is based). Common risk factors include premature and multiple births. Cerebral palsy is often not diagnosed until developmental milestones are observed to be delayed (typically 3-18 months).

Understanding cerebral palsy

Cerebral palsy affects body movement, muscle control, muscle coordination, muscle tone, reflex, posture and balance. It can have an impact on fine motor skills, gross motor skills and oral motor function. It can also cause interference with the way in which sensory information is received and processed by the central nervous system.

A child with cerebral palsy can therefore experience associated cognitive, communication, sensory and medical issues such epilepsy or seizures. In practical terms, this can impede their access to many vital aspects of their lives such as education, socialising, communicating choices and having many of the opportunities and experiences that growing up brings. In emotional terms it can lead to frustration, loneliness, lower life expectations and social isolation. All of these can have a further impact on the child’s family and carers.

The specific causes of cerebral palsy vary and can include:

  • Prematurity
  • Multiple births
  • Low birth weight
  • Heart and/or respiratory distress
  • Trauma
  • Haemorrhages
  • Maternal infections
  • Blood group incompatibility
  • Genetic links (in rare cases)


Cerebral palsy is a lifelong disability that cannot be cured.  However, if a child is offered the right opportunities, therapy and stimulation the effects can be mitigated. Without intervention, the effects of cerebral palsy on the child get worse as the child grows. However, with appropriate intervention from an organisation such as Pace:

  • The child can learn to overcome their difficulties
  • Undamaged parts of the brain can be retrained to take over some of the functions of the damaged part
  • The child’s full potential in life can be realised

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