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Let’s Talk About Cerebral Palsy Myths

Posted by Howard Janet on Mar 21, 2013 in Birth Injury

In acknowledgment of National Cerebral Palsy Awareness Day on March 25, I wanted to talk about some common CP myths: children with cerebral palsy are mentally disabled, will never walk or talk, can never live independent lives, and developed cerebral palsy from an unknowable and unpreventable neonatal condition.

The thing about myths is that they originate in a grain of truth. Although cerebral palsy, by definition, is a disorder that affects motor function, some children with CP also experience damage to the part of the brain that controls thinking. They suffer from lifelong cognitive disabilities. Others, because of the extent of damage to the area of the brain that governs movement, will need a walker or wheelchair to get around, and may need technical aids to help with speech. And yes, the reason why some children develop CP is never determined.

But, the bigger truth about cerebral palsy is that it is a disorder characterized by a range of function, from mild to severe. Many children with CP are very bright. I read a story recently about Mike Berkson, a college student with CP who compares himself to a blind man: his lack of one sense has given him heightened capabilities in other areas; in his case, diminished motor capacity has led to heightened mental acuity. Berkson, while confined to a wheelchair, has made headlines with his insights into friendship and living as a person with disabilities.

By far the most common challenge faced by a child with CP is learning to walk, and then to walk with a steady gait. But many do, to the extent that you wouldn’t know they were ever impaired. This goes for talking, too. Just Google “famous people with cerebral palsy” and you’ll find a long list of actors, authors, artists and comedians.

The last great myth about cerebral palsy is that it is never the result of doctor, nurse or hospital error. According to the medical community, the origin of cerebral palsy is mostly a mystery, but never anyone’s fault. This argument becomes full-throated when it comes to evidence that labor and delivery staff misinterpreted tracings from an Electric Fetal Monitor (EFM) showing the fetus was in trouble and failed to take the required action.

I regularly disprove this myth and others in court. (You can read more about this issue in my article "How Electronic Fetal Monitoring Can Prevent Cerebral Palsy” that first appeared in CP Magazine.) I present evidence that shows if a doctor or nurse had followed approved medical procedure, a lack of oxygen to the fetus and brain injury would not have occurred and the child would not have cerebral palsy. A winning verdict or settlement provides the family with the money they need to care for a brain-injured child the rest of his or her life, which is the fair and just outcome.

Join me in cerebral palsy “myth busting” this week. Wear a green ribbon to show your support of the cerebral palsy community.

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