Cerebral Palsy

Children with cerebral palsy have difficulty coordinating muscles and often experience symptoms like:
  • ataxia, unsteadiness
  • spasticity, stiff or tight muscles and exaggerated reflexes
  • seizures
  • walking with one foot or leg dragging
  • walking on the toes
  • a crouched or scissored gait, walk
  • muscle tone that is either too stiff or too floppy
The abnormalities that cause cerebral palsy in children can happen for a number of reasons:
  • brain development problems during pregnancy or at birth
  • brain infections (such as bacterial meningitis or viral encephalitis)
  • brain bleeds in premature babies

Children with cerebral palsy experience symptoms that range from mild to severe and generally appear before age 3, sometimes as early as infancy or early childhood.

Cerebral Palsy Special Needs Factsheet

What Teachers Should Know

Cerebral palsy (CP) affects muscle tone, movement, and motor skills (the ability to move in a coordinated and purposeful way). CP is usually caused by brain damage that occurs before or during a child's birth, or during the first few years of life.

How CP affects each person depends on which part or parts of the brain are involved. Some people have only mild impairment, while others are severely affected. For example, brain damage can be limited, affecting only the part of the brain that controls walking, or it can be more extensive, affecting muscle control of the entire body. Although CP doesn't get progressively worse, how it affects a person's body can change as children grow and develop.

About 500,000 people in the United States have CP, making it one of the most common congenital childhood disorders.

Because bullies often target students who seem "different," certain health conditions, including CP, can put kids and teens at higher risk of being bullied.

Kids and teens with CP may:

What Teachers Can Do

Many students with CP can do the same kinds of things that other kids and teens like to do, such as extracurricular activities, phys-ed, playing or listening to music, hanging out with friends, etc. Students with CP, however, may need a little more time to travel between classes and complete activities and tasks.

Make sure your classroom is easy to get around and free of obstacles.

Students with CP may need to miss class time for doctor visits or to see the school nurse to take medication. Make sure to give special consideration regarding missed instruction, assignments, and testing. In some cases, arranging for verbal responses in assignments and testing can be a good way to measure learning.

Educators, parents, doctors, therapists, and the students with CP should work together to develop and maintain the best treatment and education plans.

Be prepared for possible medical emergencies by planning ahead with parents in case your students with CP need advanced assistance.

Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: September 26, 2016