Cerebral palsy (seh-reh-brul pauls-ee)

Cerebral palsy (seh-reh-brul pauls-ee) is a term used to describe a condition where a person has difficulties with making and/or controlling their body movements. This difficulty is the result of damage to the brain areas that control movements. This damage occurs early in life, including before birth. Cerebral palsy is often called 'CP' for short.

Different types of Cerebral Palsy

CP is classified according to severity, the type of movement difficulty, and how much of the body is affected.

Cerebral Palsey


This refers to how much movement difficulty the child has. A physiotherapist or paediatrician will grade the severity of your child’s CP according to the Gross Motor Function Classification System (GMFCS).

The type of movement difficulty

There are three main types of movement difficulty:

  • Spastic: the most common type, where the muscles are stiff and difficult to stretch.
  • Dyskinetic (also called either dystonic or choreoathetoid): where there are uncontrolled, involuntary movements.
  • Ataxic: where there is poor coordination of movement, unsteadiness and shakiness.

Some children have only one type of movement problem and others have a mix of these movement problems.

How much of the body is affected

The terms commonly used to describe how much of the body is affected in someone with CP are:

  • unilateral: one side of the body
  • bilateral: both sides of the body.

Sometimes, older terms that describe the number of limbs affected are also still used to classify the type of CP. These include such as monoplegia (one limb), hemiplegia (one arm and one leg on the same side of the body), diplegia (both legs), quadriplegia (all four limbs affected).

Key Facts

  • Every 15 hours, an Australian child is born with cerebral palsy.
  • It is the most common physical disability in childhood.
  • Cerebral palsy is an umbrella term for a group of disorders. It is a condition that is permanent, but not unchanging.
  • Cerebral palsy is a life-long physical disability due to damage of the developing brain.
  • In most cases, brain injury leading to cerebral palsy occurs during pregnancy.
  • Cerebral palsy, except in its mildest forms, can be evident in the first 12-18 months.
  • Motor disability can range from minimal to profound, depending on the individual.
  • It can range from weakness in one hand, to an almost complete lack of voluntary movement. People with significant physical disability may require 24 hour a day care.
  • People with cerebral palsy are likely to also have other impairments in addition to their motor disability.
  • Spastic hemiplegia, where one half of the body has difficulty with voluntary movement, is the most common presentation of cerebral palsy. Approximately 40% of people with cerebral palsy have hemiplegia.
  • There is no known cure.


  • 1 in 700 Australian babies is diagnosed with cerebral palsy.
  • 1 in 2 is in chronic pain.
  • 1 in 2 has an intellectual impairment.
  • 1 in 3 cannot walk.
  • 1 in 3 has hip displacement.
  • 1 in 4 has epilepsy.
  • 1 in 4 has a behaviour disorder.
  • 1 in 4 cannot talk.
  • 1 in 5 is tube fed.
  • 1 in 5 has a sleep disorder.
  • 1 in 10 has a severe vision impairment.
  • 1 in 25 has a severe hearing impairment.
  • Of all children with cerebral palsy, 40% were born prematurely and 60% born at term.
  • 11% of children were from a multiple birth, compared to just over 6% of the Australian population.
  • Globally, approximately 17 million people have cerebral palsy.
  • Approximately 34,000 people are living with cerebral palsy in Australia.
  • The cost of cerebral palsy is estimated expenditure of $1.47 billion per year.
  • Care is estimated to cost an average of $43,431 per person per year, of which approximately 37% is borne by the individual and/or their family.
  • When a value for lost well-being is included, this cost increases to $115,000 per year.
  • The number of people with cerebral palsy in Australia is expected to increase to 47,601 by 2050.

CPL Queensland