Knowledge about what causes cerebral palsy, and how it is defined, is continually changing as we learn more about foetal development and neurological change. Cerebral palsy results from damage to the brain or brain stem, specifically the parts controlling muscles. In 5-10% of cases, this damage occurs from asphyxia – a temporary lack of oxygen that can result from a complicated birth. Sometimes, damage can occur after birth due to infection or head injury. In the majority of cases, however, the damage occurs before birth due to a lack of blood supply, atypical brain development or prenatal bleeding in the brain.
- Is everybody with CP the same?
No, not everybody with CP is the same. People with CP have as varied personalities as people who don’t have CP. Notably, people with CP can have a variety of different movement characteristics. In children this can be either increased muscle tone (hypertonia) or decreased muscle tone (hypotonia). They may have muscle stiffness that can affect one side of the body (spastic hemiplegia) or both legs (spastic diplegia). Other types of CP affect balance and depth perception (ataxic CP) or cause both increased and decreased muscle tone that results in jerky movements (athetoid or dyskinetic CP). The most severe physical type of CP is called spastic quadriplegia – this is characterised by stiffness in all limbs and loose neck muscles, which may make it difficult to hold your head up unaided.
Additionally, some people with CP can have what are called associated conditions such as epilepsy, visual and hearing impairments, a curved spine (scoliosis), communication difficulties, learning difficulties or delayed growth.
- Why could an AAC system help?
People with some types of CP may have difficulties speaking or controlling the parts of the body necessary to produce speech, such as the tongue, lips and vocal chords. An AAC system can augment their speech skills or offer an alternative format to speech that facilitates their language and communication skills. This can be helpful for both children and adults with CP.
- What would be the best AAC system?
The choice of an AAC system depends on the person’s age, current abilities and circumstances. There is no one-size-fits-all AAC system for CP, but there are a variety of options. We recommend seeking advice from a speech and language therapist, or through a specialist AAC assessment centre.
A speech and language therapist is the best person to talk to about a person’s speech and communication. They can teach a child exercises to improve breath control and the articulation of speech sounds as well as introduce manual signs, if appropriate. A speech and language therapist will also be knowledgeable about various AAC systems that support communication.