Cerebral Palsy (CP)

What is Cerebral Palsy?

Cerebral palsy is the name given to a condition which affects the way the brain controls the muscles of the body. This results in difficulties in movement and posture. Cerebral palsy has different causes, and affects each person differently, therefore people with cerebral palsy have varying individual needs.

What is the prognosis?

Cerebral palsy doesn’t always cause profound disabilities. While one child with severe cerebral palsy might be unable to walk and need extensive, lifelong care, another with mild cerebral palsy might be only slightly awkward and require no special assistance. Supportive treatments, medications, and surgery can help many individuals improve their motor skills and ability to communicate with the world.

What are the characteristics of cerebral palsy?

Cerebral palsy can be grouped into three main types which describe the disorders or movement and posture that may be experienced by a person. These are called spasticity, athetosis and ataxia.

Spasticity occurs when muscles are high in tone (tension) but weak in strength. A person experiencing spasticity may have difficulty moving their limbs and adopting stable posture.

Athetosis refers to uncontrolled movements, which are often most noticeable when a person with this type of cerebral palsy commences movement. In addition, children with athetoid cerebral palsy often have very weak muscles or feel floppy when they are carried.

Ataxia is characterised by unsteady, shaky movements or tremor. People with ataxic cerebral palsy and related disabilities have difficulty using muscles to achieve balance and coordinated movement. This is the least common type of cerebral palsy and related disabilities.

It is important to note that the movement difficulties each person has will be unique. Often a person with cerebral palsy will have a combination of the characteristics of the different types described above and postural characteristics may change as the person matures.

Looking at Figure 1:

Part 1

The cortex controls thought, movement and sensation. An abnormality in the movement area of the cortex can result in spastic cerebral palsy.

Part 2

The basal ganglia helps movement become organised, graceful and economical. An abnormality can result in athetoid cerebral palsy.

Part 3

The cerebellum coordinates movement, posture and balance. An abnormality can result in ataxic cerebral palsy.

Figure 1

What part of the body is affected by cerebral palsy?
Specific words are used to describe the parts of the individual's body that are affected.

Figure 2

Looking at Figure 2:


Both legs and both arms are affected, but the legs are significantly more affected than the arms. Children with diplegia usually have some clumsiness with their hand movements.


The leg and arm on one side of the body are affected.


Both arms and legs are affected. The muscles of the trunk, face and mouth can also be affected.