Myths about cerebral palsy

Many people believe common myths about cerebral palsy including that you can inherit the disability - find out the truth!

Did you know that almost 17 million people around the world and 34,000 people in Australia have cerebral palsy (Cerebral Palsy Australia)? Here we tackle some of the most common myths about cerebral palsy one-by-one…

Although cerebral palsy (a disability which affects movement, muscle tone, and posture) is quite common, there are still plenty of myths about it out there.

Let’s take a look at them one-by-one, and reveal the true facts behind them. Read on to find out more!

Myth #1: You can inherit cerebral palsy from your family

Sometimes you can inherit certain conditions from your parents, but cerebral palsy is not one of them. In fact, any link within families is often due to certain conditions being passed down between the generations (eg a heart condition can raise the risk of cerebral palsy) – not the disability itself.

Instead, cerebral palsy is usually caused when there is an injury to the developing brain before or during birth – due to a low supply of blood and oxygen to areas of the brain.

This can happen for many reasons such as a complicated labour, illnesses during pregnancy such as rubella or chickenpox, an injury to the brain from a fall, meningitis in young children, and premature births.

Myth #2: Cerebral palsy only occurs at birth

Many people think that it’s impossible to develop cerebral palsy later in life – and in Australia, it’s true that for over 90% of people with cerebral palsy, their disability was due to a brain injury while their mother was pregnant, or a cause before one month of age.

However, for 10% of people, they developed cerebral palsy later in life – often due to an infection such as meningitis or encephalitis, a stroke, or a severe head injury (Cerebral Palsy Alliance).

Myth #3: Cerebral palsy gets worse over time

It’s very common for people to think that cerebral palsy will get worse as someone grows older – the truth is, while it is permanent, it will not get worse.

But as is the case with many of us, as someone with cerebral palsy gets older, their symptoms can become a bit more pronounced – for example their muscles may become more stiff.

Although cerebral palsy can’t be cured, there are many treatments and management strategies which can help. Physio or surgery can help lengthen muscles, a child’s movements can be improved through practicing motor skills, and even Botox can be injected into muscles to help with spasticity (a medical term meaning certain muscles are continuously contracted).

Myth #4: All people with cerebral palsy have an intellectual disability

Cerebral palsy mainly affects movement and posture. But because some other disabilities can occur alongside cerebral palsy, people often assumed that people with the condition will also have an intellectual disability. Not so. Only 50% of people will have a level of intellectual disability and it can vary from mild to severe.

Myth #5: Children with cerebral palsy cannot communicate

As cerebral palsy can affect the muscles around the mouth and tongue, it’s true that some people with can find speaking more difficult – and 1 in 4 children will not be able to communicate through speech.

But, this doesn’t mean that they can’t communicate with others – there are many other ways to communicate such as sign language, communication boards, and assistive technology. A speech therapist can help children and their families with any communication difficulties.