How does cerebral palsy impact a child's development?

A child’s development can be impacted in numerous ways depending on the severity, location, and extent of the brain damage that caused the cerebral palsy. Generally, the developmental categories that can be impacted by cerebral palsy include gross motor movement and fine motor coordination. Birth injuries that cause cerebral palsy can also cause problems with sensory skills, language, and social/emotional development.

Categories of developmental delays in children with cerebral palsy

Note: some of the following developmental issues are caused directly by cerebral palsy. Others are not, but are frequently present in children with CP because they stem from the same underlying birth injury or brain abnormality.

1. Gross motor skills

Gross motor skills enable children to reach major milestones, such as head control, sitting, crawling, and walking. If a child begins to show signs of developmental delays, their doctor should recommend interventions such as physical therapy. This can help with the following:

  • Strengthening muscles
  • Preventing certain muscles from growing stiffer
  • Preventing severe joint and hip problems
  • Improving range of motion, coordination, etc. 

2. Fine motor skills

Fine motor skills enable a child to perform certain tasks, such as holding a spoon or a pencil, manipulating small objects, and picking up pieces of cereal between the thumb and finger. There are special types of physical and occupational therapy that focus on improving these kinds of skills.

3. Sensory skills

Sensory skills include hearing, seeing, tasting, touching, and smelling. A child with cerebral palsy may have difficulty processing information from these senses, which is called a sensory processing disorder. Children with sensory processing disorders may be hypersensitive, which means they have an increased sensitivity to sensory stimuli, or hyposensitive, which means they are less responsive to sensory stimuli. Children with hypersensitivity may dislike being touched or dressed, startle easily at small sounds, and seem unable to tolerate normal lighting. On the other hand, children with hyposensitivity may seem restless, seek stimulation, and not startle or respond to loud noises.

4. Language skills

Some children with cerebral palsy have speech delays and language disorders. These can be caused by a number of different factors, including the following:

Children who struggle with language production or comprehension, or have difficulty swallowing, may benefit from speech therapy (1).

5. Social, emotional, and behavioral development

Children with cerebral palsy may have issues with social, emotional, and behavioral development. These problems are not caused by cerebral palsy, but rather may be caused by the same underlying brain damage or abnormality. In many cases, birth injuries that impact the motor control centers of the brain (i.e. cause cerebral palsy) also result in social, emotional, and behavioral issues. These children may benefit from interventions such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).

6. Intellectual/developmental disabilities

It is important to note that children with CP may have normal cognitive function, even if their motor impairments are fairly severe. However, many do have intellectual/developmental delays, and these are correlated with the severity of motor impairment. To learn more about cerebral palsy and I/DDs, please click here

7. Vision and hearing problems

Many children with cerebral palsy also have vision and hearing problems. Commonly associated vision impairments include strabismus and refractive errors (2). Hearing impairments are often sensorineural, meaning that they are caused by damage to the inner ear, brain, or neural pathways. Some may also have conductive hearing loss, which is caused by problems in the outer and middle ear (3).

Adjustment and rehabilitation for cerebral palsy

There are many ways to encourage children with cerebral palsy to overcome the challenges of performing everyday tasks. One way is to participate in occupational therapy, which is a type of therapy that focuses on how to perform everyday responsibilities such as brushing teeth or getting dressed. By providing the tools to actively participate in normal activities of daily living, occupational therapy adds to a child’s concept of self-worth.

Another important way to help children with cerebral palsy thrive is to teach those around them (including teachers, friends, and family members) how to interact with them in a respectful manner. This can include taking someone aside after witnessing an awkward or potentially insulting exchange and explaining that it is important to engage normally, without staring or shouting. It is useful to remind people to treat the child the same way they would treat others.

It is always important to have an awareness of what people are thinking, especially when it comes to those who have a disability that makes physical activity more challenging. Being patient and taking the time to engage in a way that helps the child with cerebral palsy learn how to perform an activity is of the utmost importance. Providing encouragement and patiently doing activities together can make a huge difference. When children learn how to do activities themselves, it can greatly reduce their feelings of helplessness. The power of patience and positive encouragement can greatly improve the lives of children with cerebral palsy.

Legal help for cerebral palsy

ABCLawGroup 3878a 002 If your baby has been diagnosed with cerebral palsy due to medical mistakes, please contact the nationally-recognized birth injury attorneys at ABC Law Centers (Reiter & Walsh, P.C.).  For decades, we have been helping families of children with cerebral palsy. We have numerous multi-million dollar verdicts and settlements that attest to our success, and we will fight to obtain the compensation you and your family deserve. We can evaluate your case for free to determine if your newborn suffered injuries due to the negligence of the physician or medical staff, and you never pay any money unless we win your case.

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Related resources: cerebral palsy

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  1. Speech Delays and Language Disorders Caused by Birth Injuries like HIE. (n.d.). Retrieved July 16, 2019, from 
  2. Vision Problems Associated With Cerebral Palsy. (n.d.). Retrieved July 16, 2019, from 
  3. Hearing Impairments Associated with Cerebral Palsy. (n.d.). Retrieved July 16, 2019, from