Every year about 10,000 babies and infants are diagnosed with cerebral palsy. A diagnosis is gut-wrenching news for a young family, and rouses questions about the disorder and worries about the future. Questions commonly asked by family members are:
- What is cerebral palsy?
- How is cerebral palsy diagnosed?
- What causes cerebral palsy?
- Can cerebral palsy be treated? How?
- What is the prognosis for cerebral palsy?
- Are there resources or programs that can help?
At Buchanan & Buchanan, we understand how daunting the news can be for a family. Determining the cause and investigating possible legal action can overwhelm. However, if medical negligence caused your child cerebral palsy, Michigan law protects your family’s rights to seek reimbursement for resulting harms and losses, including medical and care expenses. Our attorneys and on-staff medical team have extensive experience in cerebral palsy and other birth injury matters and help ease the stress of getting answers, enrolling your child in special programs for cerebral palsy, and finding solutions.
This article summarizes cerebral palsy, and identifies resources and programs that may be available to your family.
What is Cerebral Palsy?
The term cerebral palsy (CP) refers to a neurological disorder that appears in infancy or early childhood and permanently impairs the child’s ability to move, maintain balance, and posture. “Cerebral” means brain, and “palsy” refers to weakness or problems using muscles. Though CP distorts muscle movement, the cause is not a disorder in the muscles or nerves but rather from injury to or abnormality in parts of the brain that control muscle movement.
To preserve legal remedies when CP is suspected or diagnosed, a family should promptly contact experienced medical negligence attorneys to investigate the cause and protect your rights before they are barred forever. If medical malpractice caused the brain injury, your child and family may be entitled to reimbursement for the harms and losses.
How is Cerebral Palsy Diagnosed?
A definitive test for CP does not yet exist. Diagnosis is by medical history and physical examination. Diagnosis is difficult, and there are different types. 43% of CP cases are diagnosed in the first few months of life and 70% are diagnosed in the first year. In more mild cases, a diagnosis might not be made until age 3 or 4. To diagnose CP, doctors test motor skills, look for characteristic symptoms, and review the medical history. CT (computer tomography) scans and MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scans reveal the abnormalities in the brain. Lab tests rule out other biochemical disorders that might be causing the motor system disturbance. Early diagnosis is important for well-being of the children and family.
If your child is not meeting movement milestones or might have CP, contact your pediatrician and share the concerns.
What Causes Cerebral Palsy?
The cause of CP is brain injury or malformation when developing, and can occur before, during, or after birth. It may be difficult in some children to determine cause, so it is important for parents to promptly and careful evaluate circumstances leading to their child’s condition. Common causes of cerebral palsy include:
- Lack of oxygen to the brain (asphyxia) related to difficult labor or delivery.
- Traumatic head injury to an infant from a motor vehicle accident or fall.
- Maternal infections that affect a developing fetus.
- Infant infections that cause inflammation in or around the brain.
- Random mutations in genes that control brain development.
- Fetal stroke, which is disrupting blood supply to the developing brain.
Determining cause may make your child eligible for medical assistance and care. If you believe your child suffered an injury at birth that caused cerebral palsy, promptly seek help from an experienced birth-injury legal team. The attorneys and medical advisors can determine if medical negligence was the cause.
How Do You Treat Cerebral Palsy?
There is no cure for cerebral palsy. However treatments maximize function and physical strength, prevent complications, and improve quality of life. It is important for parents to educate themselves about available treatments, and strive to enhance a CP child’s achievements and progress toward independence.
Medical treatment often requires a team comprising of a primary care doctor, social worker, nurses, occupational therapists, speech therapists, physical therapists, and other medical specialists (e.g., neurologist, rehabilitation physician, pulmonologist, and gastroenterologist). Common treatments include:
- Home care (i.e., proper nutrition, exercises, home safety and accessibility)
- Physical therapy – which helps with mobility and motor function
- Occupational therapy – assisting in improvement of independence in daily activities and care
- Medical devices, e.g., splints, braces, casts, glasses, hearing aids, walking aids
- Medications (i.e., anticonvulsants for reduction of frequency of seizures, muscle relaxants to reduce tremors and spasticity, and botulinum toxin to help with spasticity and drooling)
- Surgeries – surgery may help control gastroesophageal reflux, cut certain nerves to curb pain or spasticity, place feeding tubes, and release joint contractures
Complementary and alternative therapies include:
- Equine-Assisted Therapy – therapeutic horseback riding to improve posture, balance and overall function
- Acupuncture – the traditional Chinese medicine improves motor function by inserting fine needles into precisely defined, specific points on the body
- Threshold Electrical Stimulation – increases flow of blood to muscles, which increases muscle strength and bulk
- Encouragement – encouraging your child and providing tools to actively participate in normal activities
Traditional medicine and alternative therapies are helpful, but families must encourage and promote a positive view of life with CP. Promoting patience and positive encouragement greatly improves lives of individuals with CP.
What is the Prognosis for Cerebral Palsy?
Because causes and severity of CP vary, prognosis is difficult. Some improve with therapies and treatment, while others remain the same. Outcomes vary. Individuals with CP should be provided with many opportunities, such as regular school attendance, to be fully included in society and progress toward independence. With treatment and positive encouragement, many grow up to hold jobs, marry, and live independently as adults.
There are resources and programs that provide information and opportunities to advance independence and productivity. They provide excellent information about condition, medical treatment, alternative treatment, and support networks. Helpful organizations include:
- March of Dimes (www.marchofdimes.com)
- My Child (www.cerebralpalsy.org)
- United Cerebral Palsy (UCP) (www.ucp.org)
Besides national organizations, United Cerebral Palsy of Michigan (UCP) is an excellent in-state organization. UCP provides guidance on local resources and services, and promotes networking with other Michigan families.
For more information on health topics, including, diagnosis, therapy, medical dictionary, clinical research, disease management, and statistics, the UCP suggests a reliable website, Medline Plus, from the National Institute of Health: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/cerebralpalsy.html
The UCP also provides guidance by Michigan cities about Michigan physicians and local offices. http://ucpmichigan.org/resources/physicians-and-offices
Access to Health Care
UCP educates families about rights and access to health care. It provides information about medical services available for individuals with disabilities, and encourages involvement in public policy for improving health care access. Specialized health insurance also may be available through state agencies, such as the Michigan Child Health Insurance Program, Medicaid offices, and Department of Disability and Human Health. Helpful resources include:
- Insure Kids Now
- Michigan Department of Community Health
- Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services
- Children with Special Needs Funds
Public Assistance Programs and Support Groups
Public assistance programs offer assistance in nutrition, funding, and support groups. The UCP advocates networking and family outreach. Popular CP online support groups include:
- CP Family Network
- Daily Strength Cerebral Palsy Support Group
- Cerebral Palsy United Together Facebook Group
Housing and Employment Assistance
To promote independence for people with CP, several programs offer safe, accessible, and affordable housing. Other programs offer employment opportunities. Helpful resources on housing and employment include:
- Center for Financial Help
- Ann Arbor Center for Independent Living
- Blue Water Center for Independent Living
- BWCIL Huron County Branch
- BWCIL Lapeer County Branch
- BWCIL Sanilac County Branch
- BWCIL Tuscola County Branch
- Capital Area Center for Independent Living
- Disability Advocates of Kent County
- Disability Connection- West Michigan
- Disability Connections
- Disability Network Michigan
- Disability Network Oakland and Macomb
- Disability Network of Mid-Michigan
- Disability Network Southwest Michigan
- Disability Network/Lakeshore
- Disability Network/Northern Michigan
- Disability Network/Wayne County- Detroit
- Michigan Family Support Initiative
- Monroe Center for Independent Living
- Superior Alliance for Independent Living
- The Disability Network
- U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
- Michigan Council on Independent Living
- Michigan Rehabilitation Services
- Michigan Works
- Michigan Department of Education
- Michigan Employment Loan Fund
- We Connect Now – For College Students
- Michigan Department of Labor
The UCP promotes the Cerebral Palsy International Research Foundation (CPIRF). The CPIRF is a “not for profit 501(c)3 organization dedicated to funding research and educational activities directly relevant to discovering the cause, cure, and evidence based care for those with cerebral palsy and related developmental disabilities.” CPIRF offers access to research fact sheets, web casts of scientific workshops, current and past research projects, and discussion forums regarding treatments for CP. The CPIRF is an excellent resource to learn more about CP and what is being done to improve the quality of life for those with CP, with the end goal of finding a cure.
The UCP promotes community inclusion through recreational activities and adaptive sports. They provide resources by activity and location in Michigan. Activities include biking, dancing, fitness, horseback riding, canoeing/kayaking, music activities, swimming, tennis, etc. For more resources available on recreational activities available for children and adults with CP in Michigan, contact these organizations::
- Community Inclusive Recreation
- DNR Accessible Recreation Opportunities Brochure
- Detroit Yoshinkan Aikido
- Lose the Training Wheels
- No More Sidelines
- Therapeutic Riding Stables
- Toys “R” Us Toy Guide for Differently-Abled Kids
Educational opportunities for children with CP can be complicated. Resources help families determine the best learning environment for their child. Much depends on how CP has affected cognitive abilities and the resources available in the local community. Most are eligible for public school education programs. Those with more cognitive disabilities may take special education classes or attend a private school for children with disabilities. Available resources and options include:
- Early On
- Family-to-Family Health Information & Education Center
- Michigan Office of Special Education & Early Intervention Services
- We Connect Now- for college students
Besides the support and resources we’ve discussed, it is important to immediately seek legal help if medical negligence may have caused your child’s cerebral palsy. Often cerebral palsy occurs because of a birth injury caused by a doctor, hospital, or nurse error. If you suspect medical negligence played a role in your child’s CP, please contact the Buchanan & Buchanan team of experienced birth injury attorneys and healthcare professionals. We offer a free, no obligation consultation and are delighted to answer your questions.