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As early as the mid 1800’s an English surgeon named William Little wrote the first medical descriptions and the first documentation and information on cerebral palsy. Little wrote of a puzzling disorder that affected children in the first years of life, causing stiff, spastic muscles in their legs and to a lesser degree, their arms. These children had difficulty grabbing objects and learning to crawl and walk. Their conditions did not improve as they grew up nor did it become worse. Their condition, which was called Little's disease for many years, is now known as spastic diplegia. It is one of several disorders that affect control of movement due to developmental brain injury. These conditions are grouped together under the term cerebral palsy.
However, in 1897 Sigmund Freud, world famous psychiatrist, disagreed with William Little and believed there was more than to it than Little’s information on cerebral palsy. Freud said that children with cerebral palsy were subject to other problems such as mental retardation, visual disturbances, and seizures. Freud believed that the condition’s root was during the brain’s development in the womb. Freud suggested that difficult birth was merely a symptom of deeper issues that influence fetal development. Freud’s observations were not highly regarded, as the belief that birth complications were the cause of cerebral palsy remained popular among families, physicians, and medical researchers up until two decades ago. Over the last century and a half doctors have built upon Little’s first observations as well as Freud’s astonishing theory and today, through science’s advancements, they have much more information on cerebral palsy.
Cerebral palsy is a very diverse and complex condition with varying degrees, from mild to severe. This means that each specific case of cerebral palsy is as individual as the people themselves. Cerebral palsy is characterized by an inability to fully control motor function, particularly muscle control and coordination. ‘Cerebral’ means that the cause of difficulties lay in the brain, not the muscles as originally thought. ‘Palsy’ means having problems with movement and posture, or motor control impairment.
Depending on which areas of the brain have been damaged, one or more of the following may occur: muscle tightness or spasticity; involuntary movement; disturbance in gait (walk) or mobility, difficulty in swallowing and problems with speech. In addition, the following symptoms are sometimes associated with cerebral palsy: abnormal sensation and perception; impairment of sight, hearing or speech; seizures; and/or mental retardation. Other problems that may arise are difficulties in feeding, bladder and bowel control, problems with breathing because of postural difficulties, skin disorders because of pressure sores, and learning disabilities.
With new information on cerebral palsy, new techniques and treatments are being practiced. Botox, or botulism toxin, is the newest treatment to show high success rates. The Botulism toxin relieves cerebral palsy symptoms by reducing tightness in muscles, which allows better control of movement, and increasing the stretch of muscles, reducing the risk of permanent muscle contractions. In recent tests, some children were even able to write with a pen or use a computer touch screen to communicate for the first time. The continuous finding of new information on cerebral palsy leaves the door wide open for the future of cerebral palsy treatment.