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What is Severe Cerebral Palsy?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 30 October 2018
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Cerebral palsy is a highly variable congenital disability and there is no formal definition for “severe” cerebral palsy. Generally, when people refer to severe cerebral palsy, they are talking about forms of the disability that make it difficult to complete tasks associated with daily living, could interfere with independence, or are accompanied with cognitive or intellectual disabilities as well as physical ones. Cerebral palsy cannot be cured, but there are a number of measures that can be taken to manage it.

People with cerebral palsy have experienced damage to the areas of the brain that control motor movements. This can occur during fetal development and is sometimes associated with oxygen deprivation during childbirth. People with this condition have difficulty controlling muscle movements and may not be able to sit, stand, or walk comfortably. Severe cerebral palsy often corresponds to more damage, but not necessarily.

Some forms of cerebral palsy are very mild and may not require very many interventions. Others may require physical therapy and assistive devices like canes, walkers, or wheelchairs. In cases considered “severe,” people either have more serious forms of the condition or they have a combination of disabilities along with the cerebral palsy. Some people with cerebral palsy also experience vision and hearing impairments, cognitive disabilities, and other issues.

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The most severe form of cerebral palsy is spastic quadriplegia, where the patient lacks muscle control over the whole body. People with this disability usually need to use a power wheelchair for mobility. They can experience muscle contractures in their arms and legs, may develop skeletal abnormalities, and can have floppy heads because their necks cannot support their heads. For some people with this and other forms of severe cerebral palsy, there may also be difficulties with eating and speaking because the muscles of the mouth and throat cannot be controlled.

People who are blind, deaf or hard of hearing, or experience other disabilities in addition to the cerebral palsy are usually said to have severe cerebral palsy. Likewise, some individuals experience cognitive and intellectual impairments that may interfere with learning, communication, and the acquisition of life skills. These forms of cerebral palsy are also commonly classified as severe.

A person with severe cerebral palsy may need aides or caregivers to provide assistance with daily tasks. In addition, people with this condition often benefit from physical therapy, and may need to develop augmentative communication skills, such as using a communication book or letter board. Comprehensive evaluation can determine the extent of the disability and be used to develop an appropriate plan for managing it.

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