What is Cerebral Palsy?: Background information when reading Out of My Mind

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Out of My Mind

by Sharon M. Draper

Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper
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  • First Published:
    Mar 2010, 304 pages
    Paperback:
    May 2012, 320 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Tamara Smith

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Beyond the Book:
What is Cerebral Palsy?

Print Review

Melody has cerebral palsy. So does Mark, my camp counselor friend. Both of them are in wheelchairs, and are unable to walk, and need aid to talk and eat. But one of the children at the camp where I worked has cerebral palsy and he can walk and talk and eat just fine.

So then, what is cerebral palsy exactly?

Cerebral palsy is a general term for a group of motor conditions that develop in-utero or shortly after birth. Cerebral means brain and palsy means a disorder of movement or posture. Cerebral palsy refers to damage to the part of the brain that controls muscle tone, and it can cause increased muscle tone, reduced muscle tone or some combination of both. Where the muscle tone problems are localized - legs, arms, face, etc - depends on exactly where the damage in the brain has occurred.

Muscle tone is defined as the amount of resistance or tension a muscle has to movement. It is the way we keep our bodies in specific postures and make our bodies move in specific ways. Shortening a muscle increases the tone and lengthening a muscle decreases it. So when we bend our arms to wave, for instance, we are increasing the tone in our biceps while decreasing the tone in our triceps. Cerebral palsy greatly affects such movements.

There are three main kinds of cerebral palsy:

  • Spastic - which makes movement stiff and difficult
  • Athetoid - which makes movement involuntary and uncontrolled
  • Ataxic - which creates a disturbance of depth perception and sense of balance

A person can be affected by one of these kinds or a combination of them, and can fall on any point on a spectrum of intensity as well. So while one person with cerebral palsy might not be able to walk or talk, another person might only have a noticeable limp.

Cerebral palsy is a lifelong, non-progressive, non-contagious disorder and there is no "cure" but there are countless therapies and applied technologies - such as the ones Melody finds - that allow for living life to its fullest.

Article by Tamara Smith

This article was originally published in April 2010, and has been updated for the May 2012 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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