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Cerebral Palsy

Cerebral Palsy (CP) is a neurological disorder that appears in infancy or early childhood and permanently impacts body movement and muscle coordination but does not progress over time.
Cerebral palsy is not a disease. It is caused by abnormalities in the parts of the brain that control muscle movement. Symptoms may include but are not limited to: muscle weakness, abnormal posture, poor muscle control and lack of coordination, muscle spasms or seizures, impaired speech, and cognitive limitations that result in learning disabilities.

Observing Cerebral Palsy in the Classroom

Faculty might observe the following characteristics in students with Cerebral Palsy:

  • May have difficulty controlling arms or legs
  • May drool extensively as a result of poor muscle control
  • May be nonverbal or difficult to understand when speaking
  • May have difficulty with fine motor coordination
  • May experience visual difficulties
  • May have difficulty with hearing
  • May have difficulty with short- or long-term memory
  • May have difficulty with processing information accurately and quickly
  • May have trouble focusing on more than one task
  • May exhibit distracting behaviors or vocalizations as a result of the inability to control muscles
  • Voice may be loud as a result of a lack of ability to control the muscles that allow voice modulation


Related Functional Characteristics

Articulation : Students with cerebral palsy may have difficulty producing and controling speech, and may use augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) systems to generate speech.

Climate Sensitivity : Many people who have CP do not have the ability to sweat or otherwise regulate their body temperature effectively making them susceptible to temperature extremes.

Fatigue (Cognitive) : Students with cerebral palsy may exhibit a wide range of symptoms, including cognitive fatigue depending on which regions of the brain are affected.

Flicker or Pattern Sensitivity : Exposure to repetitive patterns, flickering video, and stroboscopic lights may trigger seizures in students with cerebral palsy.

Glare Sensitivity : Cerebral palsy is a neurological disorder which may cause sensitivity to light.

Information Processing Speed : Neurological impairments can cause difficulty with the processing of sensory information and the integration and storage of information.

Intelligibility : Students with cerebral palsy may be difficult to understand when speaking, and may use augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) systems to communicate, particularly when listeners are not familiar.

Motor Skill (Fine) : Students may have difficulties with fine motor skills if the area of the brain that controls muscle coordination is damaged.

Motor Skill (Gross Lower) : Damage to areas of the brain that control the lower body may affect the student's abilities to control the muscles in their legs and lower body.

Motor Skill (Gross Upper) : Damage to areas of the brain that control the upper body may affect the student's abilities to control the large muscles in their arms, neck, torso, and upper body.

Personal Care/ Medical Equipment Needs : Students with cerebral palsy need may require medical staff or home health aides to visit them in order to administer medications, maintain medical equipment such as feeding tubes or nebulizers, or provide support and assistance with daily living.

Processing Deficit (Visual) : Students with cerebral palsy may have visual processing problems due to neurological damage.

Reach Restriction : Students with cerebral palsy often use a wheelchair or crutches or have limited ability to control muscles.

Service Animal Needs : Students who have difficulty with grip strength or fine motor coordination may use a service animal to retrieve objects, open doors or to carry objects.

Susceptibility to Infection : Students with cerebral palsy are likely to have impaired respiratory systems making them vulnerable to severe complications from infection or viruses.

Visual Tracking Problem : Difficulties with visual tracking may occur if the part of the brain affecting visual processing is damaged.

Working / Short Term Memory Deficit : Neurological damage to the processing areas of the brain can cause students difficulty in retaining information long enough to store into long term memory so it is available for retrieval later.

The Building Accepting Campus Communities (BACC) project was funded by the US Department of Education Office of Secondary Education grant #P333A080070-09. The University of Nebraska does not discriminate based on gender, age, disability, race, color, religion, marital status, veteran's status, national or ethnic origin, or sexual orientation.