What's Going On with MeAssociated Medical Disorders
Although it is true that many people who have cerebral palsy have no associated medical disorders at all, sometimes disorders that involve the brain do indeed cause other problems. Some of the more common medical disorders and problems associated with cerebral palsy include:
Poor control of the muscles of the throat, mouth, and tongue can sometimes lead to drooling. Drooling can cause severe skin irritations and, because it is considered “socially unacceptable,” can cause a person with this problem to feel even more isolated from other kids and friends because of embarrassment and shame. Although numerous treatments for drooling have been tested over the years, there is no one treatment that always helps.
Kids used to tease me all the time, says Li Fong, who is sixteen. They used to call me baby and stupid and other hurtful names because I had a problem with drooling. But what was I supposed to do? I couldn't control it. Every time I'd try to say more than ten words at a time, it was like my mouth was full of water and the words would drown. I was petrified! I was completely afraid to speak to people or to try to make friends.
I've been working with an occupational thera pist, and she has been helping me to find ways to control my drooling — mostly by making me very aware of my body every time I do it, and by get ting me to look at the patterns of when it seems to happen most. I've actually made some improve ment, and I am slowly getting better at feeling like I can talk to people.
Seizures and epilepsy
A seizure happens when the brain—which is constantly sending out electrical messages to your body, such as to breathe or to move—sends out unusual electrical messages, very close together, that interrupt what you are doing. People who have seizures may stare, stop moving, lose control of their bodies, twitch, or fall down. When seizures happen over and over, the condition is called epilepsy.
Children with moderate to severe cerebral palsy may have a condition called “failure to thrive,” where they seem to fall behind in their growth and development. In babies, this falling behind usually takes the form of too little weight-gain; in young children, it can appear as shortness; in teenagers, it may appear as a mixture of shortness and lack of sexual development.
Impaired vision or hearing
People with cerebral palsy may have a condition called strabismus—where the eyes do not line up and focus properly because of differences between the left and right eye muscles. People with CP may also have poor vision or blindness because of damage to the normal field of vision in only one eye, which happens to those whose CP affects only one side of the body. Impaired hearing is also more frequent among those with CP than those without.
Difficulty with talking
The speech problem that most people with CP have is called dysarthria. That means it is hard for them to control and coordinate the muscles needed to talk. Their speech may sound very slow and slurred, and their faces may look strained when they are trying to talk.
Another disorder associated with cerebral palsy is mental impairment. A mental impairment may be of two different types. It may take the form of a learning disability, where there is a difficulty in processing certain kinds of information in a person of normal to above-normal intelligence; or it may take the form of mental retardation, where a person functions at lower-than-normal intelligence.
Cerebral palsy is a disability—it is not, however, who you are—and it is not something to be ashamed or fearful of.