Information about Cerebral Palsy

What is Cerebral Palsy?

Cerebral Palsy (CP) affects a person’s ability to move and hold a position.  It can be as mild as a weakness in one hand, ranging to affect all areas of the person’s body, which impacts on their ability to swallow, speak, move and sit.

About half of children with CP in Western Australia are diagnosed in the first 12 months of their life. The diagnosis of CP is normally made by a paediatrician or neurologist based on a clinical examination of the child, when he or she does not achieve motor milestones (for example, sitting, pulling to stand, walking).

Key facts about cerebral palsy:

  • CP is a permanent but not unchanging condition.
  • There is no known cure, but there are treatments to improve many of the symptoms.
  • There is no pre-birth test.
  • The rate of cerebral palsy worldwide is approximately 2 per 1000 live births.
  • Over 80 children with CP are born in Western Australia each year.
  • CP is not a disease and it is not contagious.

Early intervention for children with CP can help them reach their full potential. Appropriate therapy and equipment can greatly increase children’s abilities to participate in daily activities and improve the quality of life of both the child with CP and their family.

Types of Cerebral Palsy

There are four sub-types of cerebral palsy.  The type of CP that a person has depends on the part of their brain that has been affected, and can have varying degrees of impact over the control of movement

Spastic cerebral palsy (spasticity)

Spasticity causes the muscles to become tight and stiff, making movement difficult. This is the most common sub-type of CP. 

People with spastic CP have at least two of the following:

  •  an abnormal pattern of posture and/or movement,
  •  increased muscle tone, and
  •  exaggerated or increased reflexes.

Spastic CP has traditionally been divided into:

  • Hemiplegia: only one side of the body is affected.
  • Diplegia: the legs are mainly affected, with the arms slightly or not affected.
  • Quadriplegia: the trunk, arms and legs on both sides of the body are affected.

Ataxic cerebral palsy (ataxia)

People with ataxia have difficulty with their balance and coordination. 

Dyskinetic cerebral palsy (dyskinesia)

People with dyskinetic CP may have an abnormal pattern of posture and/or movement (often referred to as dystonia) or involuntary, uncontrolled, recurring movements. Some individuals have both dystonia and choreo-athetosis.


Many people do not have just one type but a mixture of several of the above types of cerebral palsy.People with cerebral palsy often have other associated difficulties. These can include:

  • Vision impairment or impairment in visual perception
  • Hearing impairment
  • Speech impairment, or sometimes an inability to speak
  • Difficulties with chewing and swallowing
  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Constipation or urinary and/or faecal incontinence
  • Reduced respiratory capacity and frequent chest infections
  • Epilepsy
  • Intellectual disability
  • Learning difficulties
  • Scoliosis
  • Weight problems (being underweight or overweight)
  • Pain

It should never be assumed that people with CP are unintelligent because they have physical limitations. Intellectual ability is not the same as muscle control. Some people with CP do have an intellectual disability as well as CP. But others, including many of those with hardly any body movement and little or no speech, have quick and perceptive minds. Given special means of access to electronic devices, they can become proficient at communicating and using computers.

Cerebral palsy affects the body differently from one person to another. Certain words are used to describe the parts of the body that are affected: 

Hemiplegia: affects the leg and arm on one side of the body

Diplegia: affects both legs and arms but legs are significantly more affected than the arms.

Quadriplegia: affects both arms and legs and can affect muscles in the trunk, mouth and face.

Ability Centre aims to work with individuals and families to address any and all issues associated with CP and other disabilities through a wide range of services and support.

Causes of Cerebral Palsy

In most cases, the specific cause of CP is unknown.

For a long time, it was believed that CP was due to complications at birth, including asphyxia (lack of oxygen). Researchers now understand that this accounts for only a very small percentage of cases of cerebral palsy.

It is now generally accepted that CP arises from a series of ‘causal pathways’, i.e. a combination of events that can lead to a disturbance in a baby’s developing brain.

In most cases of CP in Australia, the brain disturbance that leads to CP occurs either before the child is born or in very early childhood. When CP is acquired after birth, it is most commonly due to infection, vascular episodes (such as strokes), or head injury.

Are there risk factors?

An Australian study[1] has identified the following risk factors for cerebral palsy:

  • gestational age less than 32 weeks,
  • small for gestational age,
  • multiple births,
  • breech position,
  • multiple miscarriages,
  • illicit drug use,
  • bleeding at any time in pregnancy,
  • male sex,
  • a relative with cerebral palsy,
  • recorded maternal infection during pregnancy, and
  • smoking.

If a child has one or more of these risk factors, then the chance of CP is higher than if none of these risk factors is present. However, the vast majority of children born with any one of these risk factors still do not have CP.

Does CP run in families?

Familial CP is uncommon. A genetic disposition to certain characteristics (for example, prematurity, small size for gestational age) may be one in a chain of events (a causal pathway) that increases the chance of CP. One or more events along a pathway can result in a child having CP.


[1] O’Callaghan, M.E. et al. Epidemiological associations with cerebral palsy. Obstetrics and Gynecology 2011: 118(3): 576.

Living with Cerebral Palsy

Cerebral Palsy (CP) affects different people in different ways. No two individuals' experience of CP is the same. With this in mind, Ability Centre tailors the support and services we offer in order to meet the specific needs of each individual we work alongside.

Ability Centre aims to encourage and empower children, teenagers and adults with disability to be as independent as possible. Whilst this is easy for some, it can be a hard task for others who will always require some level of assistance. At Ability Centre we have a wide range of support services coupled with new and progressive technologies, innovative initiatives and over 60 years of experience as an organisation.

There are also many other support networks and facilities that exist for people with disability and for their families. A wealth of information is available through the various sections of this website.

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