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Cerebral palsy

Brooke Shaw.
Brooke Shaw.

Brooke Shaw has gone on long bushwalks with friends in the Gold Coast hinterland, won medals in Latin dancing and wants to go skydiving one day. She has also had rods and screws put in her back to help her improve her mobility.

Brooke has cerebral palsy—a physical disability that affects her coordination and mobility. You can find out more about CP, including:

as well as advice for people living with CP, later in this section.

Brooke had physiotherapy and occupational therapy as a child. Despite facing challenges, Brooke is grateful for her experiences.

‘Living with a physical disability make you appreciate the things that you can do,' she says.

‘Sometimes I have been depressed about what I can't do, but mostly I am so grateful for what I do have. If I didn't have cerebral palsy, I might take things for granted.'

Brooke has a Diploma of Applied Science from Gatton Agricultural College, but is happy that she hasn't pursued a career in farming.

‘I'm better at a job that is less physical,' she says. I love letting people know my story and listening to them, especially if their children have cerebral palsy.'

She says people need to appreciate each others' differences. 

'Everyone is different in their own unique way,' Brooke says.

What is cerebral palsy?

CP influences the way the brain controls the muscles of the body, affecting body movements and muscle coordination. It is both nonprogressive and permanent, and it can occur alongside other disabilities—including intellectual disabilities, seizures, sight or hearing impairments and behavioural difficulties.

CP is the most common form of physical disability in childhood, affecting about 34,000 Australians. The Cerebral Palsy League estimates that a child is born with CP every 15 hours.

What causes cerebral palsy?

CP develops as a result of injury or changes to the brain during development. A brain injury that leads to CP is more likely to occur when the mother is pregnant or before a baby is 1 month old. After 1 month of age, stroke is the most common cause of CP in babies.

Other possible causes of CP may include lack of oxygen during birth, injury or a severe infection during the first 2 years of life. Extreme premature birth has also been associated with the development of CP. The cause of CP remains unknown in some cases.

Symptoms of cerebral palsy

CP can be quite severe for some people and mild for others. Such a broad spectrum can make identifying CP in young children difficult. Some signs of CP may include:

  • early feeding difficulties
  • delayed development
  • poor muscle control
  • muscle spasms
  • lack of coordination.

Types of cerebral palsy

There are different types of CP and no 2 people with CP have the same experience with the disability. The area of the brain and parts of the body affected, as well as the extent of the damage, determine how CP is classified.

  • With spastic CP, a person experiences stiff or tight muscles.
  • With athetoid (or dyskinetic) CP, a person experiences uncontrolled or erratic movements.
  • With ataxic CP, a person experiences unsteady, shaky movements.
  • With mixed type CP, a person has more than one motor pattern that affects their movement and no pattern dominates.

A person with CP can have:

  • quadriplegia—all 4 limbs and possibly also muscles in the mouth and face are affected
  • diplegia—all 4 limbs are affected, with the legs more so than the arms
  • paraplegia—both legs but neither arm is affected
  • hemiplegia—1 side of the body is affected.

Cerebral palsy: 'See me, not my disability!'

People who have cerebral palsy can do anything and be anything. With the right support, there is no limit to what they can achieve. They can grow up to be artists, athletes, teachers, lawyers, parents, financiers, chefs, winemakers, volunteers and many other things. Early detection and intervention is vital in helping children with CP reach their full life potential and have a smoother transition into their adult years. If you have CP or are a parent, family member or carer of a person with CP, you can visit the Cerebral Palsy League website to find out about services available to support people with CP in Queensland.

Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Australia (CC BY 3.0)
Last updated:
14 November 2013

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