Jen was born 11 weeks early and weighed only 2 pounds. The doctors were surprised to see what a strong, wiggly girl she was. But when Jen was just a few days old, she stopped breathing and was put on a ventilator. After 24 hours she was able to breathe on her own again. The doctors did a lot of tests to find out what had happened, but they couldn't find anything wrong. The rest of Jen's time in the hospital was quiet, and after two months she was able to go home. Everyone thought she would be just fine.
At home, Jen's mom noticed that Jen was really sloppy when she drank from her bottle. As the months went by, Jen's mom noticed other things she didn't remember seeing with Jen's older brother. At six months, Jen didn't hold her head up straight. She cried a lot and would go stiff with rage. When Jen went back for her six-month checkup, the doctor was concerned by what he saw and what Jen's mom told him. He suggested that Jen's mom take the little girl to a doctor who could look closely at Jen's development. Jen's mom took her to a developmental specialist who finally put a name to all the little things that hadn't seemed right with Jen--cerebral palsy.
Cerebral palsy--also known as CP--is a condition caused by injury to the parts of the brain that control our ability to use our muscles and bodies. Cerebral means having to do with the brain. Palsy means weakness or problems with using the muscles. Often the injury happens before birth, sometimes during delivery, or, like Jen, soon after being born. CP can be mild, moderate, or severe. Mild CP may mean a child is clumsy. Moderate CP may mean the child walks with a limp. He or she may need a special leg brace or a cane. More severe CP can affect all parts of a child's physical abilities. A child with moderate or severe CP may have to use a wheelchair and other special equipment. Sometimes children with CP can also have learning problems, problems with hearing or seeing (called sensory problems), or mental retardation. Usually, the greater the injury to the brain, the more severe the CP. However, CP doesn't get worse over time, and most children with CP have a normal life span.
Cerebral Palsy as an "Orthopedic Impairment"
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) guides how early intervention services and special education and related services are provided to children with disabilities. Under IDEA, cerebral palsy is considered an "orthopedic impairment," which is defined as . . .
Reprinted with the permission of the National Dissemination Center.
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