Does Cerebral Palsy Affect IQ?

Having to care for a child with cerebral palsy can stir up a roller coaster of emotions for caregivers as most of them don’t know what to expect. One of the most constant worries of parents of children with this disability is how cerebral palsy may affect the little ones’ IQ later in life. Does cerebral palsy affect a child’s IQ, and if it does, to what extent?

What Is Cerebral Palsy?

Cerebral palsy refers to a long list of neurological disorders and effects caused by either an injury to a developing brain or abnormal development of the brain before or shortly after birth and which causes a permanent motor deficit. With 1 in 323 children diagnosed with it, cerebral palsy is the most common motor disability in children and the most frequent neurological disorder behind retardation and epilepsy in childhood, although 25% of children with cerebral palsy are also mentally retarded.

Symptoms of cerebral palsy vary greatly from one patient to another, but all CP patients’ posture and movement are negatively affected.

The main types of cerebral palsy are:

  • Spastic CP (It is the most common type – 80% of CP patients have it; the main symptom is muscle spasticity or increased muscle tone)
  • Dyskinetic CP (Patients have difficulty in sitting and walking due to poor control of the limbs)
  • Ataxic CP (Balance and coordination are affected; patients may have difficulties in feeding themselves or writing due to poor control over their hands and arms).

Does Cerebral Palsy Affect IQ

CP may affect IQ since half of CP patients also have an intellectual disability. The severity of the intellectual disability largely depends on the severity of the brain injury that caused the condition. You may notice that the greater the physical impairment, the more severe the intellectual disability is.

It is estimated that 20% of CP patients also have to live with a moderate to severe intellectual disability, while 25% of children affected by CP also have mental retardation. The good news is that 50% of CP patients have normal IQ, with some kids having an IQ score over 120 even though some of them may be affected by visual and speech impairments which make them less likely to stand out.

But physical impairments are not the only risk factor for cognitive impairment in CP patients. What’s more,  the presence of cognitive disability prevalence in CP patients may be overestimated.

Lack of research and of real assessment is also a cause as there are very few studies focused on cerebral palsy, so the IQ and cognitive impairments in severely disabled CP patients are often assumed not assessed.

Intellectual disability is usually caused by the location of the brain lesion and the extent of the lesion. Loss of white and grey matter may also play a role, with lower levels of the white matter being linked to more severe cognitive impairment.

But cognitive disability may occur in cerebral palsy even if there is absolutely no physical impairment. What’s more, children with the same brain lesion may have a different degree of intellectual disability. So, the jury is still out on how a brain lesion may affect a CP patient’s IQ.

Studies have also shown that males and blacks with cerebral palsy are more likely to be affected by severe cognitive impairment than females and whites, respectively. Preterm babies are also a group with a high risk of cognitive disability, along with CP patients affected by epilepsy.

So, cerebral palsy does affect the intellect, but the extent to which that happens is influenced by several risk factors so the outcomes cannot be accurately predicted.

The silver lining is that the intellectual capabilities of a CP patient are also influenced by the environment and the opportunities for interaction and active exploration at an early age. This means that therapy and other similar interventions can play a huge role in a CP patient’s cognitive development later on.

In Conclusion

Cerebral palsy does affect a child’s intellect in ways not fully understood by science. But while there are kids with cerebral palsy out there who must live with severe mental retardation, there are also CP patients with outstanding IQs who are affected by severe physical impairments that don’t allow them to fully shine.

The good news is that the cognitive development of a child suffering from CP can be greatly improved through therapy and other interventions. But those can be too costly for most parents down the road, which means that they usually get postponed to the detriment of the child. If you believe that the brain injury behind your child’s diagnosis was the result of human error, you can hold those responsible liable and make them shoulder therapy and medication costs. Don’t hesitate to call for a free legal consultation with a cerebral palsy lawyer today!

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