Cerebral Palsy

What is it?

Cerebral Palsy is a term used to describe a group of disabling conditions, which affect movement and posture. It is caused by a defect or lesion to one or more specific areas of the brain, usually occurring during foetal development before, during or shortly following birth or during infancy.

Cerebral refers to the brain and Palsy to muscle weakness and poor control. Cerebral palsy itself is not progressive i.e. it does not get worse. Cerebral palsy is not communicable. It is not a disease and should not be referred to as such. Although cerebral palsy is not curable in the accepted sense, training and therapy can help improve function.

Cerebral Palsy is:

  • A one time event brain damage
  • Does not continue
  • Complex, with varying effects
  • Difficult to classify
  • NOT progressive it does not get worse
  • NOT infectious
  • NOT a disease it is a disorder

Information Sheet

CLICK HERE to read/download an information sheet about Cerebral Palsy that you can share with friends and family.


The prevalence of cerebral palsy has remained relatively at 2.0 to 2.5 per 1,000 live births. Approximately 7,000 people in New Zealand have some degree of cerebral palsy (one third are under 21 years of age).

More on Cerebral Palsy

Children can have problems such as weakness, stiffness, awkwardness, slowness, shakiness and difficulty with balance. In mild cerebral palsy, the child may be slightly affected in one arm or leg, and the problem may be barely noticeable.

In severe cerebral palsy, the child may have a lot of difficulties, with the whole body affected. It must be emphasised that damage to the brain is a one-time event and does not continue. Damaged brain cells cannot be repaired but undamaged brain cells will continue to develop and mature.

The complexity of cerebral palsy and its effects vary from one person to another. It is often difficult to classify precisely which type of cerebral palsy a child has.

The physical effects of cerebral palsy range from very mild to severe. What is often overlooked are the effects that it can have on the family. Grief, anxiety, resentment and anger are often experienced when a child is diagnosed as having cerebral palsy. Each family is unique in its interrelationships, its coping mechanisms and its ability to encourage the cerebral palsy child to achieve full potential.

An understanding of the different types of cerebral palsy makes it easier to appreciate the childs development and how the child learns to move. Cerebral palsy is a complex condition. It is hard to understand all the aspects of it. As new research is published our perception of cerebral palsy changes all the time.

It is not easy to answer epidemiological questions with any great degree of precision. As with chronic disorders not invariably fatal, the difficulties in obtaining accurate information on the frequency of cerebral palsy in the population are substantial. Although surveys have been performed over the decades in Australasia, North America and Europe the differences in methods make comparisons across studies and over time hazardous.

Problems of research with children include:

  • The methodological requirements which include cerebral palsy diagnosis and the assessment of motor problems
  • The variations in data such as numbers, duration and frequency of therapy, the setting, the exact nature of intervention.
  • The independent variables such as age, I.Q., type of cerebral palsy, degree of impairment, parental participation, emotional disturbances, motivation, types of therapy.