Uchenna Oluwatosin, PhD. Director of Physiotherapy, Federal Medical Center Umuahia.
The aim of this article is to expose some of the myths that surround Cerebral Palsy and to emphasize the facts so that you will not be confused about them.
1. Myth: Cerebral palsy is a progressive or degenerative condition.
Fact: No, Cerebral Palsy is not progressive in that sense. The damage that causes it is permanent, but not progressive. However, the symptoms may unfold slowly but an improvement can be seen with growth especially with quality management and care.
2. Myth: Cerebral palsy is contagious. If normal children should play with affected children, they will also get infected.
Fact. No, Cerebral Palsy is not contagious. Children will not get affected by playing with other children who are living with CP. Rather, they should actually be encouraged to play with the affected children as the improved participation will contribute positively in the overall health of those living with the condition.
3. Myth: It is not possible to live independently with cerebral palsy.
Fact. No. Actually, the goal of treatment of Cerebral Palsy is to achieve a functional independence as much as is possible. Furthermore, there are different levels of affectation and varying degrees of severity of CP. The Gross Motor Function Classification System (GMFCS) classifies children with CP based on their current gross motor abilities, limitations in gross motor function and need for assistive technology and wheeled mobility. Assistive devices can help many people with cerebral palsy to live independent lives.
4. Myth: Children living with cerebral palsy cannot communicate.
Fact. Nothing can be further from the truth. That statement assumes that all communication is verbal. Even when they do not speak clearly, children living with Cerebral Palsy can and do understand what people say to them. They can read body languages and perceive non-verbal cues. They can effectively follow instructions and are excited to be part of a project.
5. Myth: People with cerebral palsy should not be allowed to play physical games because they may get hurt.
Fact: This poor belief denies children and adults living with disabilities some of the fun of life. They should be allowed to play as much as their abilities permit. Doing this will contribute to an improved willpower, function, confidence and self-esteem.
6. Myth: People with Cerebral palsy should only go to special schools.
Fact: Present emphasis is on inclusion, that means educating them in mainstream schools with some help. Those who have mild to moderate affection and can cope with mainstream schools may be allowed to do that, as this has the potential to improve their overall personality. Teachers should however be equipped to handle them. Others who have a higher severity, or associated learning disabilities may then be enrolled in special schools.
7. Myth: People with Cerebral palsy should not be allowed to marry and have kids.
Fact: Cerebral Palsy is not hereditary. It is not passed on from parents to their children. People living with Cerebral palsy can have normal relationships including getting married and having children.
8. Myth: Children with Cerebral palsy are intellectually disabled.
Fact. Although CP is neurological in origin, its manifestation is mainly motor. This means that mobility is primarily affected. Only 1 in 2 children living with CP may have an intellectual disability. Additionally, 1 in 5 may have a learning disability which may be associative when it is due to other conditions like speaking difficulties which they may also have. May have more learning disabilities but this does not mean intellectual disabilities.
9. Myth: Cerebral palsy is the same for everyone.
Fact. There are different types of neurological disorders depending on the part of the brain primarily affected by the insult. The types of CP include Spastic (which is the commonest), athetoid, ataxic and the mixed form. The affectation patterns and severity differ and are unique to each child.
10. Myth: Cerebral palsy is caused only by birth injury.
Fact. There are diverse causes like neonatal sepsis, neonatal jaundice, brain infections, head trauma, medication errors, serious maternal infection in pregnancy. Birth asphyxia, when the baby does not cry within the first five minutes of delivery, seems to be the commonest cause in our environment while prematurity is the commonest cause of CP in developed countries.
11. Myth: A child with cerebral palsy has a limited future.
Fact: Although they have a shorter than average life expectancy, many live long, fulfilling lives. People living with Cerebral palsy can go on to have a fulfilling life as much as is possible. However, the orientation of their parents and other family members will affect their outlook in life. When the family is motivating, then the children can aspire to a great future, especially for those with mild to moderate CP.
12. Myth: A child with cerebral palsy will never have a career.
Fact. Like no.11 above, many people living with CP can go on to have efficient and fulfilling careers. Some have become successful doctors, lawyers, teachers, etc.
13. Myth: Cerebral palsy is not treatable.
Fact: Variety of beneficial treatment options including physiotherapy and medications are available. They can yield significant improvements over time especially in gaining independence in activities of daily living.
14. Myth: Cerebral palsy is curable by drug or surgery.
Fact: It is an irreversible brain damage. Drugs like Baclofen, anticonvulsants are useful for associated conditions like spasticity, epilepsy while therapies can improve motor functions and enhance functional independence.
15. Myth: Cerebral palsy is rare.
Fact. No, it is not so rare. It is the leading cause of childhood disability. However, because of the poor awareness and poverty, many parents hide away their affected children and not so many bring them to the health facilities for therapies. Stigmatization also causes others to hide away their own children. We should all work together to raise the awareness and improve the social participation and inclusion of those affected.