Cerebral palsy is a neurological condition that appears in infancy or early childhood and permanently affects body movement and muscle coordination. It is non-progressive, meaning it does not worsen over time, but it cannot be reversed.
However, children with cerebral palsy can lead fulfilling lives with the appropriate medical and surgical management, as well as specialized therapies, provided at Penn State Children’s Hospital.
Care at Children's
We offer cerebral palsy patients and their families a team of experienced specialists from approximately 10 different areas at the Children’s Hospital who come together to ensure your child is receiving every treatment possible to maximize his or her quality of life.
All of our services are available in one location, and our doctors - many of whom have been treating children with cerebral palsy for more than 20 years - have more experience treating cerebral palsy than most other hospitals.
We work with the child, his or her family, and other team members to ensure the maximum functionality and mobility for each child. It’s important as children grow that they are as independent as possible when it comes to sitting upright, walking, balancing, using their hands, and feeding and caring for themselves. We also want to limit their pain and discomfort.
Your first visit to our cerebral palsy clinic may come after a visit to a pediatrician who noticed some abnormalities in your child’s motor skills or a delayed growth factor, usually between ages 2 and 3, but sometimes up to age 5.
After you’ve been referred, our orthopaedic surgeons are the first to fully evaluate each patient to make a diagnosis. Other specialists, including neurologists, neurosurgeons, otolaryngologists, rehabilitation specialists, and a variety of therapists are arranged through our clinic as needed for diagnosis or treatment. Our nurse care coordinators will take care of these appointments for you.
Once a diagnosis of cerebral palsy is established or confirmed, we will tailor treatment to each child depending on his or her condition and symptoms. We hope to address symptoms in early childhood, before development peaks, to have the greatest impact on your child’s muscle control, functionality, and independence.
As your child grows, his or her treatment plan will change. We will see your child at regular appointments every six to 12 months, or as needed between those set times.
Your child’s treatment plan may include medical or surgical interventions, as well as physical and occupational therapy; speech therapy; braces and other orthotic devices; wheelchairs and rolling walkers; and communication aids such as computers with attached voice synthesizers.
For example, our neurosurgeons and rehabilitation specialists work together on the implantation and management of baclofen pumps in children with cerebral palsy. These pumps continuously deliver medication (baclofen) into the fluid surrounding your child's spine. Baclofen is a muscle relaxant that reduces spasticity or muscle tightness throughout your child's body.
Our orthopaedic surgeons offer all the latest surgical treatments including:
- Hip surgery to realign the hip joints if they dislocate
- Spine surgery if scoliosis develops
- Rotational surgeries to help straighten limbs
- Foot surgery to align the feet
- Tendon lengthening procedures for the hamstrings or calf muscles
- Hand surgeries, including tendon transfer
Among our many other services and areas of expertise, we also offer in-house orthotics experts and a wheelchair clinic.
Cerebral palsy patients receive multidisciplinary care from many departments, including:
- Orthopaedic surgery
- Ear, nose and throat (Otolaryngology)
- Physical medicine and rehabilitation
- Social work
Our pediatric clinic is located at:
Penn State Children’s Hospital
Cerebral Palsy Clinic
30 Hope Drive
Hershey, PA 17033
Groups, Classes & Support
Support groups provide an opportunity to share your feelings and connect with other parents and caregivers who are experiencing similar struggles.
Learn more about pediatric support groups offered at Penn State Children’s Hospital.
Research & Clinical Trials
Our clinical trials office guides participants through the process, from initiation through completion of the study. View current clinical trials
Symptoms, Diagnosis & Outlook
Cerebral palsy is a group of disorders that can involve brain and nervous system functions, such as movement, learning, hearing, seeing, and thinking.
There are several different types of cerebral palsy, including spastic, dyskinetic, ataxic, hypotonic, and mixed.
Symptoms of cerebral palsy can be very different between people with this group of disorders. Symptoms may:
- Be very mild or very severe
- Only involve one side of the body or both sides
- Be more pronounced in either the arms or legs, or involve both the arms and legs
- Symptoms are usually seen before a child is 2 years old. Sometimes symptoms begin as early as 3 months. Parents may notice that their child is delayed in reaching developmental stages such as sitting, rolling, crawling, or walking.
There are several different types of cerebral palsy. Some people have a mix of symptoms.
Exams & Diagnostic Tests
There is no cure for cerebral palsy. The goal of treatment is to help the person be as independent as possible.
Treatment requires a team approach, including:
- Primary care doctor
- Dentist (dental check-ups are recommended around every 6 months)
- Social worker
- Occupational, physical, and speech therapists
- Other specialists, including a neurologist, rehabilitation physician, pulmonologist, and gastroenterologist
Treatment is based on the person's symptoms and the need to prevent complications.