What's CP?

The abbreviation CP stands for cerebral palsy. A breakdown of those words provides us with a very general definition of what CP is – “cerebral” means pertaining to the brain, and a “palsy” is a weakness of muscles. This tells us that CP is basically a weakness or difficulty with the use of muscles caused by something in the brain.

But what is it, really? What causes it? What kind of long-term effects does it have? What does it look like to live with CP? As we develop this blog, we’d like to provide a rundown on some of the most common diagnoses for children with special needs in Middle Tennessee. Knowledge is power, and the more we can learn about these diagnoses, the more effective we can be in dispelling stereotypes, providing support, and encouraging the success of the children affected by them. Since cerebral palsy is the leading cause of disability in children worldwide, it seemed as good a place as any to start. Not long ago, a teacher in the preschool was babysitting for a family whose children are enrolled at High Hopes. One of the children in this family is diagnosed with cerebral palsy. Their grandmother was over for a bit to help with the children’s bedtime routine, and as the teacher changed his sister’s diaper, Grandma played with the little boy who has CP. She was pushing the buttons on an alphabet toy, telling him the sounds each letter makes. Because the teacher often spends the day at school with this child, she knew that he knows most, if not all, of his letters and sounds. Being super socially-aware and tactful, she piped up, “Oh, he already knows his alphabet. Buddy, why don’t you show Grandma where the ‘R’ is?” It was only a moment of processing for him before his little pointer finger made a direct journey to the ‘R’ button. And it was only a moment of processing for Grandma before she started crying tears of joy. The teacher realized that his grandmother had no idea prior to that moment that he could recognize his alphabet. It occurred to her then that she has a unique advantage through her work at High Hopes in understanding the nature of several diagnoses, of understanding how they affect a child, and knowing what a child could one day be capable of despite a diagnosis. Hopefully in the post below, we can pass a little of that advantage along to you. So What Is CP? In reality, cerebral palsy is a term that refers to a whole group of disorders. These are all disorders that share common factors – they affect a person’s ability to control movements, muscle tone, and strength, and sometimes posture and balance are also affected. The brain’s signals to the muscles have been interrupted. There are several main kinds of CP, which are typified by how an individual’s condition affects their movement. Spastic CP, the most common type, is characterized by overly stiff muscles, sometimes so stiff that a child’s joints are pulled into painful positions called contractures. This is the type most people think of when they hear the term “cerebral palsy.” Athetoid CP, or dyskinesia is another type. In this type, a child may experience uncontrollable movements such as flexing, twitching, flailing, or muscle spasms. Sometimes children with this type also experience uncontrolled slow writhing movements. The final broad category of CP is ataxia, which means their CP primarily affects their balance and coordination. More than one type can be present in one child. The most common mixed type of CP is spastic-dyskinetic. All types can affect one or more limbs, from hemiplegia (affecting one side of the body), to diplegia (affecting the legs only), to quadriplegia (affecting the entire body). It can also affect three limbs (triplegia), or even just one extremity (monoplegia). A child's muscle tone contributes to the way their CP may present. Typically-developing muscle tone maintains a certain amount of tension or resistance to stretching, even when at rest. Hypotonia is the term used to describe low muscle tone, which can mean that muscles are too relaxed and overal