Damage to areas within the largest part of the brain—the cerebrum—typically before or during birth is called "cerebral palsy." This term refers not to one specific condition but is a name for a broad category of motor deficiencies that result in physical disability. The damage may result from inflammation, infection, or low birth weight or birth defects. Over half of all children with cerebral palsy have been found to have birth defects or low birth weight. Babies born with cerebral palsy may be floppy or stiff. Children with these conditions often exhibit language problems, not necessarily due to cognitive deficits—though such deficits are not uncommon—but as a result of respiratory problems or difficulties with facial muscle control.
The causes of cerebral palsy are not clear. Contrary to what was once believed, babies born with the umbilical cord wrapped around the neck, which actually happens in as many as a third of all pregnancies, are not at significantly higher risk for cerebral palsy. Rather, women who have infectious diseases such as rubella, chickenpox, or toxoplasmosis during pregnancy are more likely to have children with birth defects such as cerebral palsy. Multiple birth are associated with low birth weight, and particularly if there has been a miscarriage, one or more of the infants are at heightened risk for a form of cerebral palsy.
Researchers have also found a family connection in cerebral palsy. Siblings, children, and first cousins of children who are born with cerebral palsy are themselves at higher than normal risk of thee conditions. One study found that, while children who are twins are already three times as likely as single births to have some form of cerebral palsy, when one twin develops one, the other is 15 times more likely to do so as well. The same study showed younger siblings of children with cerebral palsy showed a sixfold increase in risk, roughly the same as children of parents with cerebral palsy.
The good news is that by adolescence, with proper treatment, children with cerebral palsy have quality of life roughly comparable to that of children who are not affected. In a survey, teenagers with cerebral palsy self-assessed as doing as well as—or better than in some areas—their peers.