Cerebral Palsy

Cerebral palsy is a collective term for brain conditions which impact movement and coordination. In addition to difficulties walking and swallowing, cerebral palsy can impact speaking, vision and learning. It is estimated that around one in 400 people in the UK has some form of cerebral palsy.

What are the signs and symptoms of cerebral palsy?

People with cerebral palsy can be impacted in minor ways, or more severely. Signs and symptoms for the three main types – spastic, athetoid, and ataxic – can include: 

  • Tight muscle tone, leading to stiff arm and leg movements (spastic)
  • Muscles which shorten with age (spastic)
  • Uncontrolled twitching and writhing, varying according to how tight or loose muscles are (athetoid)
  • Difficulty balancing (ataxic)
  • Spatial awareness difficulties (ataxic)
  • Toileting issues
  • Eating difficulties
  • Epilepsy
  • Speech and learning difficulties

How does cerebral palsy get diagnosed and treated?

Currently, there is no cure for cerebral palsy, but there are treatments to enable people with cerebral palsy to live as independently as possible. Cerebral palsy is usually diagnosed in young children when their developmental delays (learning to walk, etc.) are picked up on. Brain scans can also be used to identify cerebral palsy.

People with cerebral palsy often undergo physiotherapy to help with mobility and to prevent muscles weakening. 

Medication can be prescribed to help manage issues such as sleeping difficulties, muscle stiffness and chronic pain.

Occupational therapy can also help people with cerebral palsy go about their daily lives. Some people with cerebral palsy may need help looking for work and with other skills such as using a computer, without which finding and holding down a job might be difficult.

There are a few ways to determine whether an employee has cerebral palsy, or to confirm a cerebral palsy diagnosis which requires reasonable adjustments:

  • Because the majority of people with cerebral palsy are diagnosed by the age of five, employees will likely know they have the condition (this is not always the case, such as with less ‘visible’ disabilities like dyslexia).
  • Even if the employee does not wish to disclose their cerebral palsy, an employer can focus on making reasonable adjustments, rather than seeking to determine the precise disability their employee has.
  • Given that cerebral palsy can evolve over time, with certain symptoms worsening as the person ages, it is important to maintain regular communication with the employee who has cerebral palsy so that the reasonable adjustments remain appropriate.

What reasonable adjustments are possible with cerebral palsy?

Employers have a legal duty to make reasonable adjustments for employees with cerebral palsy if they know, are aware of, or could ‘reasonably be expected to know’ that the employee has cerebral palsy. Most employees will tell their employer what reasonable adjustments they need. They often involve simple changes in the way an employer might usually do things.

If the employee does not disclose a health issue or disability which may affect their performance upfront, an employer should broach the subject sensitively if they suspect that there may be a disability behind the employee’s reduced performance. Reasonable adjustments can then be made in accordance with the employee’s needs, including, in the case of cerebral palsy:

  • Accommodating home or remote working: this can help if the employee has significant mobility issues which affect their ability to commute or get into the office.
  • Making assistive technology available and training on how to use it: such as expanded keyboards and forearm supports, as well as dictation devices, to enable easier use of a computer for employees with spasticity or speech difficulties.
  • Making sure there is easy bathroom access and a flexible break schedule: for employees with cerebral palsy that may have decreased bladder or bowel control.
  • Adjusting deadlines: to accommodate any learning difficulties that the employee may have as a result of their cerebral palsy.
  • Emphasising the employee’s skills, rather than the difficulties they have as a result of their cerebral palsy: many people with cerebral palsy have the same cognitive function as people without it, and so their intellectual abilities will be unaffected by their disability. 
  • Raise awareness: for the employees with cerebral palsy to be better understood in the workplace, and to make employees feel comfortable with asking for help related to their cerebral palsy.

Joint hypermobility Signposting  

Ehlers-Danlos Support UK – organisation offering support to people with EDS, including physical and virtual support groups, as well as working to improve the medical care people with the condition receive, and awareness of the condition among the general public (0800 907 8518).

Hypermobility Syndromes Association – organisation supporting people with different types of hypermobility, as well as the medical professionals who treat them. This is done through support groups and by improving research into hypermobility (033 3011 6388).

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