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Hemiplegia is a condition that affects one side of the body in cerebral palsy patients, however it is not exclusive to cerebral palsy. Hemiplegia affects either the right or left side of the body. Hemiplegia is caused by damage to a part of the brain, which can occur before, during, or soon after birth, when it is known as congenital hemiplegia. If it occurs later in childhood (up to age 3), it is called acquired hemiplegia. Generally, injury to the left side of the brain will cause a right hemiplegia and injury to the right side a left hemiplegia. Childhood hemiplegia is a relatively common condition, affecting up to one child in 1,000.
The causes of congenital hemiplegia are mostly unknown, and usually parents become aware of their child's hemiplegia gradually during his or her infancy. The risk for hemiplegia is higher in premature babies, and difficulty at birth may be an occasional factor. Brain damage causing hemiplegia usually occurs during pregnancy, and researchers have as yet been unable to isolate any contributory factors besides the previously known risk factors of cerebral palsy. Acquired hemiplegia results from damage to the brain during childhood. The most common cause is a stroke, but it can also result from an accident or infection.
Hemiplegia affects each child differently. The most obvious affects are a varying degree of weakness and lack of control in the affected side of the body. In one child this may be very obvious, in another child it will be so slight that it only shows when attempting specific physical activities.
Although there is no cure for hemiplegia, its effects can be minimized through physical therapy. Your child, once diagnosed, will probably be referred to a Child Development Centre (CDC) or the children's department of your local or regional hospital, where therapists will work with you to develop his or her abilities.
Because the immature brain is so flexible, many of the functions of the damaged area can be taken over by completely functional parts of the brain. Children and young people with hemiplegia will see a relatively small difference in their general development in the area of the brain that was damaged, especially in comparison to their elder counterparts.
A child with hemiplegia should be treated as normally as possible, when the circumstances allow. However, it is essential to include the weaker side in play and everyday activities, to make your child as ambidextrous as possible. Children with hemiplegia can be encouraged to develop better use of their weaker side through involvement in their chosen sports and hobbies, as they get older.
About half of children with hemiplegia do have additional problems related to cerebral palsy. Additional problems are usually medical in nature, such as epilepsy, visual impairment or speech difficulties. It has also become clear that many children have less obvious additional problems, such as perceptual problems, specific learning difficulties or emotional and behavioral problems, but with specialist treatment their effects on the child's life can be minimized.
Understanding hemiplegia and knowing how you can help your child achieve his or her potential is vital. Make good use of the healthcare specialists dealing with your child's hemiplegia. Be sure to ask questions and make sure you understand your child's needs regarding hemiplegia.