Researchers are zeroing in on a more precise and detailed understanding of the risk factors for cerebral palsy, a category of motor deficiency conditions that result in physical disability. There are a number of related conditions grouped under the term "cerebral palsy," with a variety of causes, but they all involve damage to areas within the largest part of the brain, the cerebrum.
The common wisdom about cerebral palsy is that this damage is a result of asphyxial birth events, such as nuchal cord—a fairly common condition in which a baby is born with the umbilical cord wrapped around the neck—or other things that interfere with oxygen reaching the brain during or immediately after birth. New research, however, shows that nuchal cord is harmless more often than not, and other problems are more important in cerebral palsy than previously realized.
Those other problems are primarily inflammation due to infection, low birth weight, and birth defects. Low weight and birth defects were found in over half of all children with cerebral palsy, and the dyskenesia, or problems coordinating muscle movements, present in some types of cerebral palsy was associated only with those factors, and not with asphyxiation during birth at all. Low birth weight is common with premature births, and birth defects are common in babies born to mothers who had rubella, chickenpox, toxoplasmosis, or certain other infectious diseases while they were pregnant. Children born in multiple births, particularly when there is a miscarriage, are also particularly prone to cerebral palsy.
There are support groups available in many communities and online for people with cerebral palsy and for parents of children with cerebral palsy. However, people with cerebral palsy can do more than simply cope with the condition. There’s no cure, but ongoing treatment can often help people with strength and movement, through a combination of training, medication, and surgery in some cases. Physical and occupational therapy can also be useful, though they can only do so much. The goal with treatment for cerebral palsy is not to eliminate every trace of the condition but to make it possible for people to carry out the routine tasks of daily life.