Cerebral palsy is a well-known reality to the families and friends of those who have it. To many of the rest of us, sadly, it has received little consideration. Because cerebral palsy (aka CP) is rarely just one thing, many misconceptions about it has persisted for decades. Here are 4 common misconceptions-myths, if you will-about cerebral palsy and the people who have it:
1) Children with CP are mentally disabled
2) Children with CP will never walk or talk
3) Children with CP can never lead independent lives
4) CP comes from an unknowable and unpreventable neonatal condition
All of the above can be true. For some. BUT NOT FOR MOST.
Cerebral palsy is an umbrella term referring to a (currently) incurable, non-progressive set of neurological conditions that produce physical and neurological abnormalities during human development. Cerebral palsy is caused by brain damage, either through injury or irregular development during the early stages of life. The damage usually occurs just before, during or shortly after the birthing process. Very few infants are born with noticeable symptoms. Most will begin exhibiting them in the first few years of life as developmental milestones are missed.
MYTH #1: CHILDREN WITH CP ARE MENTALLY DISABLED
Depending on what part of the brain is affected, CP can present itself as any of a variety of developmental impairments and in variable degrees of severity--from barely noticeable to severe. More than anything, CP affects the motor and muscular development of those afflicted with it.
Some children with CP do, in fact, experience damage to the parts of the brain that controls thinking and therefore suffer lifelong cognitive disabilities. However, many children with CP suffer little to no cognitive impairment and are very bright. Google " famous people with cerebral palsy " and you will find an impressive list of scholars, authors, actors and doctors.
MYTH #2: CHILDREN WITH CP WILL NEVER WALK OR TALK
Because CP primarily affects the parts of the brain associated with movement and muscle control, learning to walk, and then walk with a steady gait, can sometimes be a challenge for children with CP, but many walk in such a way that you would never know they were impaired. There are those who will ultimately require a wheelchair, walker or cane to get around, but advancements in early intervention, physical therapy and more advanced medical procedures have allowed more CP kids becoming independently ambulatory.
For some children, the brain injury affects the muscles that control the mouth and tongue, which is why some labor to speak clearly or speak at all. Unfortunately, uninformed people often equate speech impediments with a lack of cognitive ability. This is simply not the case.
MYTH #3: CHILDREN WITH CP WILL NEVER LEAD INDEPENDENT LIVES
Again, some cannot. However, hundreds of thousands of adults with cerebral palsy live completely independent lives. They may have needed a little extra help preparing for independent living. Occupational therapists help prepare teens and young adults with basic skills such as preparing meals, handling money, knowing when and where to seek medical care and driving a car or using public transportation. Sometimes adults with CP require specially designed living spaces in order to live alone.
MYTH #4: CP CAUSE IS UNKNOWABLE AND UNPREVENTALBE
Because the diagnosis of cerebral palsy often occurs years after the event that triggered it, it is sometimes difficult or impossible to trace it back to one specific, documentable event. It may have been the physical or emotional lifestyle of the mother, an undetected infection or an error by one or more healthcare providers that went unnoticed or was intentionally covered up. Historically and unfortunately, the myth has been perpetuated in the courtroom as doctors, healthcare management companies and insurance providers have endeavored to deflect blame and cloud certainty in the minds of jurors to avoid financial liability.
Make no mistake about it, the cause of cerebral palsy CAN be knowable and IS OFTEN preventable.
As the medical community, legal community and insurance industry continue to battle it out in the courtroom, we inch ever-closer to understanding all the things we need to do to prevent and eradicate these injuries from ever happening in the first place. After all the finger-pointing, it's the children and the families that need to be put first.