Cerebral palsy (CP) refers to a group of disorders that affect muscle movement and coordination. The word “cerebral” is indicative of the brain and the word “palsy” indicates weakness or problems with body movement. Cerebral Palsy is a motor disability that’s seen in over 17 lakh people around the world affecting their capability to move and maintain balance/ posture. Oct 6th is marked as “cerebral palsy day” to raise awareness about this affliction that has exponentially increased over time.
The worldwide incidence of CP is around 2 to 2.5 cases per 1000 live births. Cerebral Palsy and its treatment continue to be a challenge for modern medicine in the field of pediatrics. Any harm that a baby’s brain suffers before, after, or during the process of birth is commonly termed cerebral palsy. However it is not a disease, it is a condition. This condition usually inhibits the cerebral functions that facilitate movement.
When the parts of the brain responsible for body movement, coordination, and posture come to harm- due to unusual development of the brain and/or physical injuries sustained by a developing brain- there is an increased risk of CP. Even though damage to the brain usually happens pre-birth, it can also occur post-birth in the first few years of life. Even though it is difficult to determine the exact cause of CP, there are some cases that are deemed to be more at risk. They include viral Infections to the pregnant mother, high blood pressure, diabetes, a preterm delivery, an underweight baby, irregular variations in blood glucose levels during pregnancy, inhibition of blood flow to the brain due to delay in the baby’s first cry, breathing trouble during labour, meningitis encephalitis or other conditions affecting the brain, accidents to the infant, head injuries and bleeding, post-birth fits, etc.
If any of these symptoms match the birth of a child, it is imperative that a pediatrician is consulted to monitor the growth and development of the child while ensuring that any conditions are diagnosed early on.
If the baby finds it difficult to suckle cries for elongated periods, weak body, 2-month-olds that do not laugh or struggle to make eye contact, 4-month-olds whose necks are yet to solidify, use only one part or organ of the body, does not pay attention to sounds and if the baby finds it difficult to achieve ordinary milestones of growth like solidifying structures, lie down on its tummy, sit, stand, walk, etc., one can infer that the baby likely as the condition called Cerebral Palsy.
In addition to injuries sustained by the brain, kids with CP are observed to express difficulty in speech, hearing, sight, comprehension, and emotional stability.
Conditions like these rely on an expert team for treatment and even then cannot be cured completely. They cannot be cured using medicines or drugs. However, with early intervention and the right expertise- it is possible to make the child self-reliant and independent to an extent. A pediatrician, pediatric neurologist, early development therapist, pediatric physiotherapist, occupational therapist, speech and language therapist, psycho behavioral therapists, special teachers, and social workers comprise the team that evaluates the child and develops a treatment schedule for him.
Often, we are unaware of the ways in which modern medicine, its practitioners and specialists, and their expertise in the subject matter can help in the treatment of children with this condition. This ignorance makes us easy prey to scams and superstitions that waste precious time and places a financial burden on us.
It is necessary to start early stimulation and early intervention training as soon as symptoms are perceived in a child. In the physical and mental development of a child, the period before it becomes 3 years old is detrimental to its growth. Having said that, 75% of children with cerebral palsy are intellectually capable to pursue education in an ordinary school. But for this to become reality we require an inclusive education system that is made accessible to the common man with the support of the education and health ministries. It is possible to empower children with cerebral palsy to be a part of society and lead ordinary lives. We hope that each cerebral palsy day that we pass by brings us closer to such a reality.