Cerebral palsy (CP) is a cluster of brain disorders that affect an individual’s ability to move, balance, and control posture, muscles, and reflexes. It results from impaired brain development during pregnancy or soon after birth. Those afflicted with cerebral palsy experience its effects and severity differently. Muscles may be weak or stiff. Many cerebral palsy persons experience tremors or unpredictable or uncontrollable reflexes and muscle movements. They may also be visually, hearing, or speech impaired. Severe cases may also have trouble breathing and swallowing, which leads to eating, digestive, and dental problems.
Medical advancements have enabled individuals with cerebral palsy to live well into adulthood. However, there appears to be a limited commitment to help physically disabled adults obtain maximum mental and physical health and well-being. As a result, those with cerebral palsy tend to experience high levels of social and emotional distress as well as physiological challenges.
Cerebral palsy affects one’s mobility and ability to effectively communicate. As a result, cerebral palsy individuals tend to be socially and professionally limited. Employment, marriage, and living independently are viable options only for those with mild cerebral palsy.
Inclusion is important to mitigate feelings of isolation, loneliness, and depression. Having a disability does not eliminate the need to be accepted and respected by one’s peers. Cerebral palsy adults may be encouraged to join groups or socialize with individuals their age that have similar disabilities or who do not normally participate in physical activities. Organized crafts, recreational activities, and events aid socialization. Psychologists and behavioral or developmental specialists are often consulted to assist with socialization needs.
Aggressiveness, hyperactivity, belligerence, withdrawal, or fearfulness are signs the cerebral palsy individual is having difficulty adjusting to their surroundings or to others. They may act frustrated, mad, or sad. This may be due to painful physical maladies associated with their CP (i.e.: poor sleep, scoliosis, acid-reflux, skin irritations, etc.). This acting-out may also be due to feelings of low self esteem or a negative self-image. Attentiveness to these signs of distress, anxiety, and depression provides the impetus for early mental health intervention.
Comprehensive care must include mental health observation and support in addition to customary medical and physical care. Helping the cerebral palsy adult adapt to their disability and/or limitations can help improve mood.
Fifty percent of cerebral palsy individuals have a learning disability. The degree of learning disability depends on which area of the brain is damaged. Approximately one-third of individuals with cerebral palsy have moderate-to-severe intellectual impairment (mental retardation). One-third has mild intellectual impairments. One-third shows no signs of cognitive impairment.
More adults with cerebral palsy are furthering their education and entering into the workforce due to advancements in medical treatment, ADA and educational accommodations, and adult cerebral palsy support services. Ensuring physically disabled adults maintain mobility, find inclusion, and have full access to community and adult support services helps ensure they achieve maximum health, well-being, and quality of life.