Is Cerebral Palsy a Learning Disability?

Cerebral Palsy Information, Child Development

Child doing schoolwork behind tablet showing brain scan

Cerebral palsy (CP) is a group of disorders caused by brain damage or malformation, specifically to parts of the brain that control motor function. While cerebral palsy isn’t a learning disability, it often presents with coexisting conditions related to learning difficulties.

How Does Cerebral Palsy Affect the Brain?

Cerebral palsy affects the cerebral cortex, which is the outer area of the brain that directs muscle control and movement. In some cases of CP, the cerebral cortex doesn’t fully develop during fetal growth. More commonly, however, injury before, during, or after birth damages the cerebral cortex. The damage to the cerebral cortex is permanent, resulting in lifelong disabilities.

Children with CP exhibit a range of symptoms depending on the condition’s severity. These symptoms can include:

  • Weakness in one or more limbs
  • Variations in muscle tone (too “floppy” or stiff)
  • Lack of muscle coordination
  • Tight or stiff muscles
  • Exaggerated reflexes
  • Tremors or involuntary movements
  • Difficulties swallowing or speaking, or excessive drooling
  • Walking on the toes or with a crouched or “scissored” gait
  • Difficulties with precise movements such as tying shoelaces, buttoning shirts or writing
  • Delays in reaching motor skill milestones

The symptoms associated with cerebral palsy also vary from one person to the next depending on the type of brain injury and, while CP doesn’t get progressively worse, symptoms may change over time. Even so, everyone with CP has issues with posture and movement, and many have other medical disorders that may include seizures, abnormal physical sensations, or some level of learning disability.

Cerebral Palsy and Learning Disabilities

As a concerned parent, you may be wondering, “Is cerebral palsy a learning disability?” While CP often occurs together with learning difficulties, not every individual with cerebral palsy suffers from cognitive issues that impair the ability to learn. Everything depends on which part of the brain was injured to cause the condition. In many cases, however, the damage isn’t limited to the brain’s motor control center, meaning that learning difficulties tend to go hand in hand with the condition.

For example, children with even mild forms of cerebral palsy are often diagnosed with dyscalculia (difficulty with mathematics) and dyslexia (trouble interpreting and learning letters, symbols, and words). Individuals with CP may even have trouble communicating their ideas or deciphering people’s expressions. As such, they may struggle to express their feelings or appear to lack empathy.

The brain damage resulting in CP may also affect a child’s intellectual functioning and language development. Some children may have trouble processing certain types of auditory or spatial information. Learning new ways to accomplish challenging tasks is therefore key to an individual’s ability to overcome developmental disabilities.

Treating Cerebral Palsy

No one standard treatment or therapy works for everyone with cerebral palsy. Medical professionals will need to determine which type of CP your child has and identify his or her specific needs and impairments before developing an appropriate plan of action that can improve your child’s quality of life.

Speech and language therapy is key to improving a child’s ability to speak or learn new ways to communicate as well as managing swallowing disorders. Many children with CP can discover easier, more effective ways to communicate using methods such as sign language, boards with symbols, or computers with voice synthesizers.

Other forms of treatment that can help individuals with cerebral palsy include:

  • Physical therapy
  • Recreation therapy
  • Occupational therapy
  • Therapies that address eating and drooling issues

Comprehensive therapies can help prepare children with mild to moderate forms of CP for school. Many special education classrooms use tools like picture books, computer software, tablets, and other devices to help children improve their communication skills. Wheelchairs, braces, wedges, hearing aids and vision aids can also help individuals with CP overcome some of their learning difficulties. Speak to a doctor, however, for more information about CP therapies and implements.

How Educators Can Help Your Child

Educators can take a variety of steps to accommodate children and teens with special needs in a traditional classroom setting. Students with CP often need extra time or help to travel between classes. Allowing them to leave a few minutes early (with someone designated to carry their items, if needed) will ensure that they have the time and space they need to get where they’re going. They may also need to miss classes to see the school nurse, take medication, or attend therapy or doctor appointments.

Because many students with CP don’t handle test-taking or certain types of assignments well, consider arranging verbal responses to measure their learning progress. Children in special education programs may also require an individual education plan (IEP), a personalized educational plan detailing an individual child’s goals, milestones, and the steps educators will take.

The Cerebral Palsy Family Lawyers at Janet, Janet & Suggs LLC understand the importance of treating individuals with CP with compassion and respect. If you feel that your child’s condition may be the result of medical negligence, we’re here to help answer your questions and learn more about whether or not you have a case for medical malpractice. Contact us today, and let us help you and your family.

Was Your Child's CP Preventable?