Cerebral palsy is the generic name for a group of disorders affecting muscles and movement.

If, for any reason, the movement part of the brain is injured or fails to develop normally, the child may be born with or develop cerebral palsy.

Approximately two people in every thousand have cerebral palsy. It neither worsens nor ameliorates, but stays at the same level throughout life. However, children can be taught strategies to deal with it and to develop as much independence as possible.

In a child with cerebral palsy, messages between the brain and the muscles are jumbled. There are three types of cerebral palsy, defined by which messages are affected. Many children with cerebral palsy have a combination of these three different types.

  • Spastic cerebral palsy results in stiffening of the muscles and difficulty with joint movements. Even the simplest activities may be very difficult. If one side of the body is affected this is called hemiplegia. If the legs are the most affected it is called diplegia and if both arms and legs are affected it is called quadriplegia. 
  • Athetoid cerebral palsy results in involuntary movements as muscles tense and relax. Often these children have difficulty controlling their movements for breathing and speech. Hearing may also be affected.
  • Ataxic cerebral palsy results in the whole body being affected. The child will probably be able to walk, but their balance and coordination will be affected. They will have jerky hand movements and speech.

An important fact to remember is that no two children with cerebral palsy are the same. Some are affected so mildly it’s hardly noticeable at first, while in others the effects are immediately obvious.

Key characteristics

Some children with cerebral palsy may have:

  • very rigid limbs and limited or exaggerated movements
  • difficulty in walking and moving
  • either muscle weakness, stiffness, floppiness or spasms
  • a tendency to make involuntary movements as muscles tense and relax
  • difficulty talking or jerky speech
  • hearing difficulties
  • chewing and/or swallowing difficulties
  • epilepsy
  • a need for help with self-care skills
  • difficulty distinguishing shapes (a problem with visual perception rather than eyesight) and may also have a squint
  • learning difficulties, sometimes related to a specific activity such as reading, drawing or maths
  • difficulties maintaining friendships if they cannot join in with other children’s interests
  • poor self-esteem.

Support strategies

You may need to:

  • organise physical access to different parts of the school
  • liaise on a regular basis with the relevant professionals
  • ensure that appropriate adult support is provided
  • make use of ICT as an aid to learning
  • make use of audio-visual aids
  • ensure that extra time is given for specific tasks
  • adapt physical activities, especially PE
  • use circletime to discuss inclusion issues for all the children in the class
  • celebrate ability not disability – some children may be very able in a specific area.

Support agencies

Capability Scotland