Health conditions

Cerebral palsy

What is cerebral palsy?

Cerebral palsy (CP) is a condition which affects a person’s posture and their ability to move.

It can be as mild as a weakness in one hand, but in severe cases it can affect all areas of the person’s body, which impacts on their ability to swallow, speak, move and sit.

Why do people have cerebral palsy?

In most cases, the specific cause of cerebral palsy (CP) is unknown.

For a long time, it was believed that CP was due to complications at birth, including asphyxia (lack of oxygen). Researchers now understand that this accounts for only a very small percentage of cases of CP.

It is now generally accepted that CP arises from a series of ‘causal pathways’, i.e. a combination of events that can lead to a disturbance in a baby’s developing brain.

In most cases of CP in Australia, the brain disturbance that leads to CP occurs before the child is born. When CP is acquired after birth, it is most commonly due to infection, vascular episodes (such as strokes), or head injury.

How is it diagnosed?

About half of children with CP in Western Australia are diagnosed in the first 12 months of their life. The diagnosis of CP is normally made by a paediatrician or neurologist based on a clinical examination of the child, when he or she does not achieve motor milestones (for example, sitting, pulling to stand, walking).

How is it treated?

CP affects different people in different ways. No two individuals' experience of CP is the same.

Medical practitioners aim to encourage and empower children, teenagers and adults with the disability to be as independent as possible. Whilst this is easy for some, it can be a hard task for others who will always require some level of assistance. There are a wide range of support services and therapy options coupled with new and progressive technologies and innovative initiatives available to people with CP.

There are also many other support networks and facilities that exist for people with the disability and for their families.

Where to get help


  • Cerebral palsy (CP) affects different people in different ways. No two individuals' experience of CP is the same.

The centre for cerebral palsy logo

This publication is provided for education and information purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical care. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your healthcare professional. Readers should note that over time currency and completeness of the information may change. All users should seek advice from a qualified healthcare professional for a diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.

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