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Cerebral palsy prognosis

A prognosis for children with cerebral palsy is a prediction that indicates the chances of them performing certain motor skills, such as walking, in the future.

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About 70% of cerebral palsy cases result from a birth injury. Was your child one of them?

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How will CP affect my child?

When a child is diagnosed with cerebral palsy, one of the first things parents want to know is what their child’s future will look like. “Will my child be able to walk?” and “Will my child have any other disabilities?” are common questions asked by parents at this stage.

Doctors predict the answers to these questions by coming up with a prognosis. A cerebral palsy prognosis is a prediction of the long-term effects the condition could have on a child’s overall motor function and quality of life.

Doctors make a prognosis by observing a child’s motor skills, reflexes, and developmental milestones.

When doctors give parents a prognosis of the child’s condition, they can make predictions about the child’s:

  • Ability to walk
  • Overall mobility
  • Intellectual capacity
  • Life expectancy
  • Vision and hearing
  • Quality of life

As with a diagnosis, doctors often hesitate to make an initial prognosis for children with cerebral palsy. This is because young children are capable of considerable improvements in their motor skills. A child’s specific movement problems do not stabilize until they reach 2 or 3 years of age, making it hard to get a good idea of the child’s future movement problems until then.

It’s important for parents to keep in mind that a prognosis is only a projection of the likely course of their child’s disability — it’s not a guarantee, and many children do much better than their original prognosis predicted.

Does cerebral palsy get worse?

No. Cerebral palsy is not a progressive disorder, which means it does not improve or worsen over time. However, as a child gets older, some symptoms might become more or less visible.

Physical therapy, medication, and other types of cerebral palsy treatment can help children improve their motor skills and ability to communicate.

A note on quality of life

An important thing for parents to consider after receiving their child’s prognosis is his or her quality of life.

Quality of life is a subjective term used to describe the child’s overall well-being, including the social, emotional and physical aspects of their life.

Children with cerebral palsy tend to cope with their functional limitations very well. Despite their condition, many children with CP report having a social and emotional quality of life that is on par with their peers who aren’t disabled. Having limited motor skills doesn’t equate to an unsatisfactory quality of life.

What to expect

Knowing what kinds of problems other children with cerebral palsy have experienced helps give an idea of the progress a particular child is likely to make. This takes into account co-occurring disorders, such as seizures, which can hinder the child’s ability to develop certain motor skills.

In 2012, the American Academy of Pediatrics published a report which relied on data from over 1,300 studies of disabilities in people with cerebral palsy. It laid out the various conditions these people had and how common the conditions were.

The report found that of people with cerebral palsy:

  • 1 in 3 can’t walk.
  • 1 in 2 have some form of intellectual disability.
  • 1 in 3 have hip displacements.
  • 1 in 4 can’t speak.
  • 1 in 4 have epilepsy.
  • 1 in 4 have a behavioral disorder.
  • 1 in 4 have bladder control problems.
  • 1 in 10 are blind.
  • 1 in 25 are deaf.
  • 1 in 15 have to be tube-fed.

This information is useful in a prognosis because it helps evaluate things like the chances of a child with cerebral palsy being unable to walk or having a learning disability. According to this report, for example, there is a 2 in 3 chance that a child with CP will be able to walk.

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Improving your child’s outlook

A child’s prognosis is not set in stone. There have been many cases where children have overcome the odds and learned to walk when they were told they would never be able to. Treatment and physical therapy, complemented with a healthy lifestyle and a positive mindset, are the best ways to improve a child’s prognosis.

To learn more about a prognosis for cerebral palsy, try downloading our free Cerebral Palsy Guide, which includes over 12 pages of in-depth information for children and parents of a child with CP.

kristin proctor registered nurseReviewed by:Kristin Proctor, RN

Registered Nurse (RN)

  • Fact-Checked
  • Editor

Kristin Proctor began her nursing career as a U.S. Army Nurse and has been a Registered Nurse (RN) more than 20 years. She has specialized experience in labor and delivery, as well as prenatal, antepartum, and postpartum care. Kristin uses this experience to educate and support families affected by birth injuries.

Cerebral Palsy Guide was founded upon the goal of educating families about cerebral palsy, raising awareness, and providing support for children, parents, and caregivers affected by the condition. Our easy-to-use website offers simple, straightforward information that provides families with medical and legal solutions. We are devoted to helping parents and children access the tools they need to live a life full of happiness

  1. Freeman Miller, M.D. and Steven J. Bachrach, M.D. Cerebral Palsy: A Complete Guide for Caregiving 2nd ed. The Johns Hopkins University Press. Baltimore, MD. 2006.
  2. Children with Cerebral Palsy: A Parent’s Guide 2nd ed. Edited by Elaine Geralis. Chapter 1: What is Cerebral Palsy? by Dr. Elliot S. Gersh. Chapter 3: Medical Concerns and Treatment by Dr. Gersh. Woodbine House, Inc. Bethesda, MD. 1998.
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