Cerebral Palsy

Elena Onosovskaya, guest authorUncategorized

I work in a school that specializes in helping children with Cerebral Palsy. I am a teacher of mathematics and informatics, not a doctor, but I have broad experience in dealing with this disorder. Nonetheless, I am writing about my own observations and feelings, and the following does not constitute medical advice and information.


(from Center for Diseases Control and Prevention website)

  • Cerebral palsy (CP) is the most common motor disability in childhood.
  • Population-based studies from around the world report prevalence estimates of CP ranging from 1.5 to more than 4 per 1,000 live births or children of a defined age range.
  • About 1 in 323 children has been identified with CP according to estimates from CDC’s Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network.
The above points are just words and figures. The reality of Cerebral Palsy is different, personal, touching, and sometimes inspiring. At school, I interact daily with children who have Cerebral Palsy. Apart from their physical conditions, they are just kids, and they do things that kids do. They laugh a lot and are frisky. They study our adults’ world. They make friends and fall in love. They live and learn just like anyone else. And their parents can be happy as any other parents. And we teachers also learn from these unusual pupils: they teach us to love life, to be optimistic and to be resilient. And with early diagnosis of their disorder their lives can be transformed.
The reasons for Cerebral Palsy are not completely clear. Sometimes it is a result of brain damage before or at the time of birth; in most cases children are born with it. A person affected by cerebral palsy is often easy to notice. There are various signs of the disorder from a strong limp to almost complete paralysis. In some cases, the affected person presents sharp uncontrollable movements of limbs or of the whole body. Cerebral Palsy can also cause intellectual disability. At present, Cerebral Palsy is incurable and that’s the most frightening thing about it.
The fear of an incurable disorder is so strong that there can be a risk of parents, at times, trying not to pay attention to its symptoms in their child, especially since in infancy the symptoms may be subtle and then gradually increase. “Can’t happen to us”, “it’s just a small thing that will pass with time, and if it doesn’t then we’ll take care of it” – we’re all human, and sometimes it can be the way we think. Of course, this approach is very wrong for any illness, be it of children or adults. But any delay is especially wrong when applied to an infant if there is a suspicion of Cerebral Palsy. The fact is that in the early period of life, when the brain develops and develops very rapidly, treatment can greatly reduce the degree and consequences of cerebral palsy.
Working every day with kids who have the disorder, I see how being able to walk independently, albeit with walkers but without a wheelchair, and being able to stand, makes a huge difference for them. The eyes of these kids who, one way or another, are able to experience moving with their own feet, just sparkle with happiness! The difference between someone with completely paralyzed or uncontrollable hands, and one who is able to write, work on a computer, eat or drive their own wheelchair without external help is enormous. There is an abyss between the quality of life of a person, who talks understandably, and someone who does not have this capacity. But timely medication, massages and other methods applied in the first years of life may well help a child make this breakthrough.
In short, health can be likened to a thin shell, within which everything is about the same. The disorder of cerebral palsy lies kilometers deep: the various manifestations of this disorder differ more than significantly. Go to the best possible state - this should be the goal. For each step, even the smallest steps, a child depends on his or her parents. The earlier the cure starts, the more successful it is.
An additional advantage of any mobility development is an increase in the possibilities for further improvement of his or her intellect. Normal development means that a baby learns to get up on his or her hands and knees, to crawl, and as soon as that happens, their brain receives an impulse because of more information being processed. Then the kid stands up and stars to walk – there is again an avalanche of new information and a huge leap forward in their intellectual development. A child, whose movements are limited, doesn’t receive these impulses and therefore his or her development slows down - not because of a brain damage, but simply because of a lack of impressions he or she would naturally get. But, in such cases, it is possible, indeed necessary, to artificially create additional impressions for kids with limited physical capacities.

My point: Cerebral Palsy can and should be treated, and as early as possible.

What early stage symptoms does Cerebral Palsy have? Of course, the diagnosis is made by a doctor. Normally a doctor makes regular checks on whether a child's physical development is adequate for his or her age, or there is a delay. Such delay may be one of the warning signals. Sometimes young children with cerebral palsy can strike unnatural or strange postures; or movements are too sharp or, on the contrary, slowed down; if the child has convulsions or performs all actions with only one hand or foot; if he or she crosses the legs when standing steadily; walks on tiptoe; if the child has strabismus (squint); difficulty swallowing food. A good neurologist will give the right diagnosis.

As above, there are good reasons not to delay a visit to the doctor. A healthy child will suffer no ill effects while a child with Cerebral Palsy could have his or her life transformed by early diagnosis and action.

Guest Author: Elena Onosovskaya

Elena Onosovskaya is the mother of one daughter. She has worked as a teacher in a school specializing in helping children with cerebral palsy for the past 8 years and is a writer who draws inspiration from the kids at her school.