06 October 2019
Every year, on the 6th of October, World Cerebral Palsy Day is held to raise awareness but also to celebrate the lives and achievements of those with cerebral palsy (CP) and the people and organisations that support them.
“Cerebral Palsy is the most common childhood physical disability, and affects an average of one in every 700 people. There are over 17 million people living with CP around the world and over 350 million caregivers, yet it receives very little media attention.
For World CP Day this year we want to raise awareness for the condition, and encourage inclusion in everyday activities like sports and exercise. Activities like these are beneficial for all people, and with a little bit of adaptation, we can all get involved in them together.
As a collective, we’re working towards a future where children and adults with CP have the same rights, access and opportunities as anyone else in our society.” - Alex McGrath, World Cerebral Palsy Day Manager.
While very common, CP also has highly variable impacts and symptoms may range from slight weakness in one hand to difficulty in controlling muscles and movements, even potentially making it difficult to eat. There are also a host of other associated impairments depending on which area of the brain was affected, including: epilepsy, speech disorders, vision impairment, hearing impairment, swallowing difficulties, developmental delays, and intellectual disabilities.
While cerebral palsy is permanent, tailored treatment can improve the quality of life for both the individual and their loved ones. The wide range of causes and symptoms means that cerebral palsy has to be understood as a highly complex disability, one that may require a multifaceted treatment plan, perhaps including speech therapy, surgery, occupational therapy and physiotherapy, among others.
But how does someone develop cerebral palsy?
Generally speaking, cerebral palsy is caused by a problem with the brain that occurs before, during, or shortly after birth. It can occur as a result of a large number of possible causes, including but not limited to: meningitis, sepsis, stroke as a baby, maternal infection (like rubella, toxoplasmosis, chickenpox), or a lack of oxygen in the baby’s brain.
On World Meningitis Day 2019, CoMO published a video detailing a day in the life of Ashleigh, a young woman who developed cerebral palsy as a result of pneumococcal meningitis. She contracted pneumococcal meningitis at only 6 months old and was in Intensive Care for two weeks. The disease left her with cerebral palsy, epilepsy, deafness, a severe intellectual disability and no ability to speak or walk.
Today, Ashleigh is a happy and otherwise healthy young woman with a team of support workers and a loving family who keep her active and engaged with a range of fun activities. Pottery allows her to express her creativity and regular exercise allows her to strengthen her muscles and improve her balance. This not only keeps her fit and healthy but helps her carers when they’re transferring her to and from different locations.
Ashleigh’s experiences with meningitis mean that she will have cerebral palsy for the rest of her life and she isn’t alone. Approximately 5% of meningitis patients discharged from hospital display symptoms of cerebral palsy, often broadly categorised as motor deficit. Support, lots of love, care and attentive adaptation means that Ashleigh is able to get the benefits of having an active lifestyle. This World Cerebral Palsy Day, CoMO encourages everyone to think about the multitude of ways meningitis and sepsis may affect someone’s life long-term and to think about how we can make these small, but absolutely necessary, adaptations to make everyday activities more inclusive. This Sunday, let’s move as one!
A huge thank you to Alex McGrath, World Cerebral Palsy Day Manager, for providing a statement. You can find more information on their website here.
 Edmond et. al (2010). Global and regional risk of disabling sequelae from bacterial meningitis: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Lancet Infectious Diseases, 10, pp. 317-28.