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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
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.
The most important thing for parents to consider after receiving their child’s prognosis is his or her quality of life.
Children with cerebral palsy tend to cope with their functional limitations very well. In spite of their condition, the majority of 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.
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:
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.
A child’s prognosis is never 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 positive mind-set, 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 60 pages of in-depth information for children and parents of a child with CP.
Kimberlee is a writer and researcher who is passionate about helping children with disabilities enjoy a happy, healthy life. She works closely with our attorneys to create content that educates the families and caretakers of children with cerebral palsy.