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March Is Cerebral Palsy Awareness Month

Robert F. Spohrer

Cerebral palsy (CP) is the most common childhood motor disability, and for every 1,000 children born worldwide, it’s estimated that at least 2 of them will develop some form of cerebral palsy. In the United States alone, cerebral palsy currently affects about 764,000 people, with the vast majority of them still under the age of 18.

Although cerebral palsy actually encompasses a diverse range of neurological conditions, symptoms, and patient outcomes, there are still many misconceptions about this disability – and what it truly means to live with CP every day. Because March is Cerebral Palsy Awareness Month, our Jacksonville brain injury attorneys at Spohrer Dodd wanted to review some of the statistics and facts, as well as debunk the most common myths.

What Is Cerebral Palsy?

While cerebral palsy is technically categorized as a neurological disorder, it is best-known for inhibiting physical movements. That’s why it’s often described as a motor disability, although it can also cause learning disabilities and some degree of intellectual impairment too. Whether brought on by abnormal brain development, genetic factors, birth complications, or an injury sustained during the birthing process, cerebral palsy can take many different forms, and manifest with different levels of severity.

Here are the main categories of cerebral palsy and their general symptoms:

  • Spastic: This is the most common form of CP, affecting more than 80% of all patients. Spastic cerebral palsy means that the overall muscle tone is too stiff and rigid, severely limiting movement. Ranging in severity from diplegia to quadriplegia, spastic CP can affect an individual’s ability to walk, talk, or even see.
  • Dyskinetic: People who are identified as having dyskinetic CP often have a hard time controlling specific appendages, such as hands, arms, and legs – which leads to uncontrollable or rapid movements. Unlike spastic CP, muscle tone will vary throughout the day in dyskinetic individuals, shifting from too loose to too stiff and back again.
  • Ataxic: Ataxic cerebral palsy primarily affects physical coordination and balance, and individuals with this form of CP may have a harder time with precise motor movements such as drawing or grasping small items. In severe cases, they may have difficulty walking too.

Some CP-identified individuals may not require much in the way of ongoing medical help, and experience only minor posture, movement, and speech impediments. Alternatively, they may require lifelong assistance and specialized equipment just to get around on a daily basis. However, one thing is true for nearly all children born with CP today: While it can be costly to get the right treatment, it is possible for cerebral palsy patients to experience a freer and more independent life.

Common Myths About Cerebral Palsy

Thanks to recent scientific advances, people with CP have more options than ever before. Where the average CP life expectancy once fell short at 40, improved medical treatment and greater awareness about the condition has led to longer lifespans and a better quality of life for most CP patients. Unfortunately, many unfounded myths still persist about cerebral palsy, which can lead to illegal discrimination, bullying, and limited job opportunities for those affected.

Here are 5 of the most common myths about CP:

  1. You can only get cerebral palsy through your genes. Although some cases of cerebral palsy are caused by genetic factors, the vast majority are caused by malformation during the critical stages of brain development, typically because of a physician error during childbirth.
  2. Anyone with CP also has an intellectual disability. Because cerebral palsy is a neurological disorder, people assume that it causes intellectual disability in every instance. But it’s important to remember that CP mainly affects motor skills, and most people with this condition are able to attend school and eventually attain independence.
  3. Cerebral palsy gets worse as you age. Cerebral palsy symptoms share some similarities with the effects of old age, and it often becomes more difficult for CP individuals to walk as they grow older. However, CP is not a progressive disease, and does not usually advance over time.
  4. All people with CP have difficulty walking. Most cases of CP involve some form of motor impairment, but the degree of difficulty with walking can range dramatically. Some may have few issues walking, while others may have to rely on a wheelchair.
  5. People with CP all have a low quality of life. Perhaps the most common CP myth is that individuals with cerebral palsy all have a low quality of life. However, surveys show that many CP children are every bit as active, healthy, and engaged as their peers, ranking only “social support from friends and peers” as lacking.

Why Is Green the Color of Cerebral Palsy Awareness?

Just as breast cancer uses light pink ribbons and heart disease relies on red for visual markers, cerebral palsy awareness has also been given a special color: Green! Often associated with vitality, new growth, and renewal, green represents how cerebral palsy patients can go on to live rich and independent lives, and break down all the barriers that stand in their way.

As more scientific and therapeutic advances become available, both children and adults living with CP will be more empowered to reach their personal goals and take on new challenges. Here at Spohrer Dodd, we hope that we can continue to spread awareness and information about this common disability, and fight for the rights of affected children and their parents whenever possible.

If you believe that your child’s cerebral palsy may have been caused by medical malpractice, contact our office at (904) 637-7721 to schedule your consultation with our Jacksonville birth injury lawyers.