Cerebral Palsy Glossary

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Abnormal gait 
Deviation from normal walking

Absence Seizures 
Sudden brief loss of consciousness with rapid recovery. They are usually associated with staring and repetitive eye blinking. Also known as petit mal seizures.

The degree to which a product, device, service, or environment is available to as many people as possible.

Removing obstacles that impede accessibility, thereby helping a person with disabilities function and participate in a typical environment.

Adaptive behavior 
The ability to adjust to new situations, tasks, environments, people, and objects. Also to learn new adaptive skills and apply them to other situations.

Adaptive equipment 
Physical props or supports to aid those with special needs. (i.e. corner chair, prone board, etc)

The inward movement of a limb towards the body.

Speaking on behalf of a person, cause, or group to support or promote their actions.

AFO: Ankle Foot Orthoses 
A partial leg brace made of lightweight plastic that controls the foot and ankle and ends at the calf

Agenesis of the Corpus Callosum 
A birth defect with partial/complete absence of the corpus callosum

Alternative and Augmentative Communication (AAC) 
The use of non-verbal techniques to communicate. Can include sign language, gestures, pictures, or a computerised device.

The ability to walk

Departure from what is considered typical

Anticonvulsant (or Antieplieptic drug AED) 
A drug used to control seizures

Aqua Therapy 
A therapeutic procedure which attempts to improve function through the application of aquatic therapeutic exercises

The ability to move and control all parts of the mouth to make the sounds of a language.

To suck or draw in food or liquids into the lungs by inhaling. Children with CP often swallow improperly while drinking and getting a small portion in the lungs. Drinking through a straw helps prevent aspiration, as does thickening the liquid, or limiting the amount of each sip or bite.

Assessment (or evaluation)
The process of determining a person’s developmental strengths and weaknesses by observation and testing by a team of professionals and parents.

Blurry vision due to either the irregular shape of the cornea, the clear front cover of the eye, or sometimes the curvature of the lens inside the eye.

Lacking symmetry i.e. when one side of the body is different from the other.

Unbalanced gait due to damage in the cerebellum

Uncontrolled writhing, Parkinsonian movements

Lack of normal muscle tissue

To deteriorate or progressively weaken, refers to muscle tissue in children with CP

Auditory processing 
Being able to understand individual speech sounds quickly enough to comprehend the meaning of what is being spoken.

Provides customised hearing assessments and diagnostic testing.

Feeling or behavior that often precedes a seizure


Baclofen Pills 
Drug used to treat spasticity

Basal ganglia
The basal ganglia act as a control center in your brain for voluntary movements. They assess the signals sent by your brain, allowing for smooth and coordinated movements by filtering out unnecessary or incorrect signals.

Relating to both sides

Bone Scan 
Nuclear scanning test to find certain abnormalities in bone

Medication made from the botulism toxin that is injected into stiff muscle groups to reduce stiffness

Brain plasticity 
see Neuroplasticity

Brain stem 
Small portion of the brain located between the cerebellum and the spinal cord


Central nervous system 
The brain and spinal cord. It mainly controls voluntary movement and thought processes.

Lower smaller portion of the brain that coordinates balance and muscle activity

Type of Cerebral Palsy that results in a variety of muscle tone and involuntary movements of the limbs.

Fast alternating relaxation and contraction of the muscles caused by spastic muscles.

Ability to process and understand the surrounding environment (thinking)

Combat crawling 
Crawling while on stomach and using mostly your arms to pull the rest of the body forward

Complementary and alternative medicines (CAMS)
CAMS are medical products and practices that not part of standard medical care. Complementary medicine is used alongside standard medical treatments to support or augment their effects, or to mitigate their side effects. Conversely, alternative medicine is employed as a substitute for standard medical interventions.

A condition present a birth

Constraint-Induced Movement Therapy (CIMT
Constraint-Induced Movement Therapy (CIMT) is a form of therapy led by an occupational therapist, designed for individuals experiencing challenges using one arm or hand. These individuals typically have reduced range of motion, strength, coordination, and sensation in one of their upper extremities, reducing their ability to perform activities requiring both hands. CIMT involves restricting the use of the stronger arm while providing intensive training for the weaker arm. This approach aims to encourage the affected limb to regain functionality through repetitive practice and focused attention.

Decreased joint mobility due to a shortening of muscle fibers

Involuntary contractions of the muscles due to abnormal electrical activity of the brain

Corpus Callosum 
A thick band of nerve fibers that connect the left brain with the right

Cortical blindness 
Total or partial blindness resulting from an injury to visual centers in the cerebral cortex.  In this condition, the eyes function normally but the brain can not interpret or process the visual information.

Cortical visual impairment (CVI)
A form of visual impairment that is caused by a brain problem rather than an eye problem. (The latter is sometimes termed "ocular visual impairment" when discussed in contrast to cortical visual impairment.) Some people have both CVI and a form of ocular visual impairment

CT scan 
Imaging test using radiation to see structures within the body.  It involves being placed in a small tube.  Time of the test is usually less than 10 minutes.

Cue (AKA a prompt)
It is a visual, auditory or physical action that reminds a person to perform a behavior or activity.


Dynamic AFO. A brand name for a flexible AFO.

Developmental delay 
Developmental Delay means that a child is behind in some areas of development, such as:

- Physical – gross, fine motor
- Cognitive –problem solving, visual perception, sequencing etc.
- Communication – how the child understands what is said and how the child uses sounds, words or gestures to let others know what he/she wants.
- Social/Emotional – behavioural difficulties, difficulties with social interaction etc.
- Adaptive Development – self-help, including feeding and dressing skills

Developmental disability 
Impairment of any developmental area, before age eighteen, that is expected to be substantial and continue indefinitely. Ex: autism, cerebral palsy.

Developmental milestone 
Developmental goals categorised by age, based on typical growth and development. Ex: talking in simple sentences by age two, walking while holding onto a prop by 7 to 8 months, etc.

Developmental Paediatrician 
A paediatrician that specialises in developmental milestones and assessing normal or abnormal child development

Diazepam (Diastat) 
Medicine inserted rectally to stop prolonged seizures. It is often given by parents at home when a seizure does not stop in a specific amount of time established between the doctor and the parent.  The medicine is otherwise known as valium

are qualified to work with healthy people and those with medical conditions in a broad range of settings including hospitals, primary care and private practice. Dietitians are the only nutrition professionals who can be employed by the HSE to work in a hospital or a community setting.

Type of Cerebral Palsy that primarily produces spasticity of the legs

Durable Medical Equipment (DME)
Supportive medical equipment used to improve the quality of life and independence of the user. Examples include wheelchairs, bathing chairs, standers etc.

Dynamic Stander 
A type of durable medical equipment that supports the user in a standing position but it also has wheels that enable the user to move himself through space.

Difficulty with sequencing and planning movements

Difficulty swallowing.

Slow, twisting, rhythmic movements


Early intervention 
Therapy and family instruction provided for children ages birth to three years old that is intended to minimize presentation of developmental delay.

Electroencephalograpm (EEG)
Test that charts the level of electrical discharge from nerve cells in the brain.  It is used to test for abnormal brain/seizure activity.

A disorder of the brain characterised by repeated seizures. A seizure is usually defined as a sudden alteration of behavior due to a temporary change in the electrical functioning of the brain.

Child’s sense or actual physical balance

Walking on toes due contracted or shortened calf muscles

Expressive language 
Verbal, written, or use of gestures to communicate

Straightening the limbs or trunk.


Febrile Seizures 
Generalised tonic-clonic (or grand mal) seizure brought on by sudden rise of body temperatures to 38 or higher. It is most common in children under age six. Duration is often less than five minutes.

Feeding tube 
Tube of soft plastic used in feeding for those who have difficulty getting enough nutrition through regular eating.

Femoral bone (femur)
Thigh  Bone

Femoral torsion (femoral anteversion)
Inward twisting of the femur causing the knees and feet turn inward.

Fine motor 
Using small muscle groups, such as face, hands, feet, fingers, toes. Fine motor skills include feeding, holding an object between thumb and fore finger (pincher grasp), turning/twisting, etc

Fine Motor Delay
Fine motor developmental delays describe a lag in the ability to use the extremities (hands, fingers, wrists, tongue, lips, feet, and toes) as expected for a child's age. Fine motor skills involve the ability to hold, use, or manipulate objects using some of the smallest muscles of the body

Bending of joints

Muscle controlling the bending of joints

Loose movements and weak posture

Fluctuating tone
Combination of loose and tight muscles in different areas.

Focal motor seizures
Jerking of a few muscles without an immediate loss of consciousness.

Foot drop (drop foot)
Gait abnormality characterised by trouble lifting the front part of the foot.

Functional vision
Refers to how an individual uses his/her vision in everyday life.


Gag reflex 
Reflex that can often be extra sensitive with those with Cerebral Palsy, to the point where the child may gag or choke when something touches their tongue or palate. Over sensitization of the oral reflexes are often addressed by occupational therapist, speech language therapist or physical therapist.

The way (or manner) in which a child walks

Gait Analysis 
Study of body movements, body mechanics, and the activity of the muscles.

Gait Trainer 
Device that acts like a walker but with supports to stabilise the hips and ankles to encourage good posture and placement of feet and legs while walking.

Gastroesophageal reflux (GERD)
A digestive disease in which the stomach acid flows back into the esophagus.

General movements (GMs)
Body movement present from early foetal life onwards until and after birth (up to 18 weeks post-term). They involve the whole body in a variable sequence of arm, leg, neck, and trunk movements. They change in intensity, force and speed, and they have a gradual beginning and end. If the nervous system is impaired, GMs loose their complex and variable character and become monotonous.

General Movements Assessment
A quick, non-invasive and cost-effective way to identify neurological issues which may lead to cerebral palsy and other developmental disabilities. The assessment can be conducted from birth to 3 months of age by analysing the child’s GMs. The GMA was developed by Professor Heinz Prechtl, a Developmental Neurologist, from Graz in Austria. This assessment is used in our Early Detection & Intervention Study.

Study of gene and heredity

Gross motor 
Using large muscle groups, such as legs, arms, and abdomen.  Gross motor skills include transitioning between postures, standing, walking, running, jumping, etc.

Gross Motor Functional Classification System (GMFCS)
A tool which classifies the mobility and gross motor skills of people with cerebral palsy into five different levels, where children at level I have less significant mobility impairments and children at level V are mostly dependent for mobility.


Teaching new skills to those with developmental delays

Head control 
The ability to control movement of the head.

Type of cerebral palsy where only the right or the left side is affected.

High tone 
Tightness, or spasticity, of the muscles.

Hip Dislocation 
Common injury in which the ball-shaped head of femur comes out of the cup-shaped acetabulum set in the pelvis.      

Hip Dysplasia 
Congenital or acquired deformation or misalignment of the hip joint

Hippotherapy (AKA Equine Therapy)
The use of horseback riding to improve a child’s muscle movements and range of motion

Blockage of the flow of cerebrospinal fluid that increases pressure in the ventricles of the brain. Can cause brain damage. Often relieved by surgical insertion of a tube called a shunt to drain the fluid.

Excessive growth of tissue

Increased tension in the muscles, also known as high tone.

Decreased tension in the muscles, also known as low tone.


Decrease in strength, dexterity or ability to use a leg, arm or other body part.

In utero 
In the uterus, referring to the period during fetal development.

Being included or involved in a typical classroom as much as the child’s disability will allow

Lack of control of bladder or bowel movements.

Intellectual Disability
A child who, before eighteen, has below average intellectual functioning and self-help behavior.

Interdisciplinary team 
Team of professionals from varying fields (teacher, therapists, doctors) who evaluate a child and then develop a summary of the child’s abilities, progress, and needs in each of their areas of expertise to get a total picture of each area of the child’s life.

Within the brain

Within the skull

Intrathecal Baclofen Therapy 
Treatment for muscle spasticity. A small pump is inserted under the skin to release small amounts of the medication, baclofen, into the spinal fluid.

Involuntary movements 
Uncontrolled movements.


Knee Ankle Foot Orthoses (KAFO)
Long plastic leg brace, which supports the whole leg, and hinges at the knee.


Learned Helplessness 
Psychological term used to describe people who have been in a situation where they cannot help themselves for a long amount of time or who have been told repeatedly they can’t do something. These people develop an attitude of helplessness that extends past the initial situation and instead of trying to do or learn a new skill later on in life, immediately give up because they assume they aren’t able to perform the task.

Learning disability 
A child with normal intelligence who has difficulty processing certain types of information.

Low tone 
Decreased muscle tone.

Lower extremities 


Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)
Use of electromagnetic forces to make an image of the inside of a body

Incorporating a child with special needs into a typical classroom. (see also inclusion)

Manual Ability Classification System (MACS)
How children with cerebral palsy use their hands to handle objects.

Imaginary reference line separating the right side of the body from the left. Most often used in doctor’s and therapy notes

Type of cerebral palsy where only one limb is affected.

Ability to move oneself

Motor delay 
Slower development of movement skills

Motor patterns 
The way body and limbs work to make a sequenced movement, such as crawling

Motor planning 
The ability to think through and carry out a physical task

Muscle tone 
Amount of resistance or tension to a movement in a muscle


Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU)
A unit in the hospital designed to care for premature babies or babies born with urgent medical conditions.

Doctor who specialises in disorders of the nervous system

Involving the nerves and muscles.

The brain’s ability to reorganise itself by forming new connections. Also called Brain Plasticity.

Doctors specialised in the surgical treatment of neurological diseases.

Chemical substances in the brain that are used between nerve cells to carry, or transmit, signals from one nerve to another.

A person who advises on matters of food and nutrition impacts on health. As this profession is not regulated by law, anybody can call themselves a nutritionist. However, those who hold the appropriate qualifications can register with the UK Voluntary Register of Nutritionists (UKVRN). There is no similar register of Nutritionists in Ireland.


Occupational therapist (OT) 
Therapists that help children and adults participate in the things they want and need through the use of everyday activities.

Doctor of optometry who studies and treats disorders of the eyes, vision, and surrounding tissues.  Not a medical doctor.

Oral Motor
Control of lip, tongue and jaw muscles

Relating to the joints, ligaments, bones, and muscles.

Orthopedist vs. Podiatrist 
Orthopedist is a doctor who specialises in preventing or correcting problems related to the joints, ligaments, bones and muscles, whereas a podiatrist is a doctor who specialises in preventing or correcting problems related to the feet.

Lightweight devices that provide stability at the joints or passively stretch the muscles. Can be made of plastic, metal, or leather.

Specialised professional who creates, measures, and fits orthotics

Operation to cut and realign the bones. Ex: to change the angles of the femoral bone and the hip joint.


Parent Advocate 
A parent with knowledge and/or training about special education law and who provides advocacy support to fellow parents facing obstacles obtaining an education and related accommodations for his/her child.

Peripheral Nervous System
The part of the nervous system that consists of the nerves and ganglia outside of the brain and spinal cord.

Petit mal seizures 
see absence seizures

Physical therapist (PT) 
A therapist who assesses and treats problems relating to gross motor skills, such as sitting up without support, crawling, walking, etc.

Physical Therapy
Evaluation and treatments aimed at helping people improve gross-motor skills, strength and balance. Therapists can also recommend adaptive equipment, such as power or manual wheelchairs, walkers, and standers.

Positioning or alignment of the body

Understanding how and why language is used

Primitive reflexes 
Early patterns of movement in a child that usually disappear after about six months of age


A type of cerebral palsy where the whole body is affected


Rage of motion (ROM) 
The degree of motion present at a joint.

Reasonable accommodation 
Efforts made to remove obstacles that prevent handicapped accessibility but don’t result in an unreasonable financial burden, such providing a ramp to the entrance of a building.

Receptive language 
The ability to understand what is written or being said

An involuntary movement in response to stimulation such as touch, pressure or joint movement

Providing a pleasant consequence (such as getting to do favorite activity or eat favorite food) or removing an unpleasant consequence (such as a chore or a punishment that was in place) after a behavior in order to increase or maintain that behavior

Respite care 
Respite care is when you can take a break from caring, and the person you care for is looked after by someone else. It can be covered by family members or an organisation so you can take a short break, a holiday or a rest. The person you care for will get respite care or temporary care in the community or in an institution. The availability of respite care depends on where you are located in the country –the respite care can be organised by your local Health Service Executive (HSE) area or by local or national voluntary organisations.

Extremely high muscle tone in any position with very limited movements.


Crossing of the legs together when standing, being held upright, or walking.

Curvature of the spine

Abnormal bursts of electricity in the brain resulting in changes in behavior, consciousness, and involuntary movement. They can be categorised as partial or generalised. A partial seizure only effects one area or one side of the brain. Several different types of partial seizures include: Focal Motor (simple partial), Sensory, Autonomic, and Psychomotor (temporal lobe) Seizures. Generalised seizures are where both sides of the brain are effected. Several different types of generalised seizures are: Absence (petit mal), Tonic-Clonic (grand mal), Infantile Myoclonic (infantile or jackknife), Febrile, and Atonic (Akinetic) Seizures.

Selective Dorsal Rhizotomy
A neurosurgical procedure involving cutting nerves in the spine to reduce tightness in muscle groups.

Sensory Integration  
The neurological process that organises sensation from one’s own body and the environment, thus making it possible to use the body effectively within the environment. Specifically, it deals with how the brain processes multiple sensory modality inputs into usable functional outputs.

Device used to drain excess spinal fluid from the brain for those with hydrocephalus

Side sitting 
Sitting with both knees bent and to one side of the body

Having stiff muscles that impede movement.

Disorder where the eyes do not line up in the same direction

Partial dislocation of any joint. Ex: when the ball of that connects with the hip socket slowly pulls partially out of position.

Supra Malleolar Orthosis (SMO)
Brace above the ankle bone


Related to the sense of touch

Toe walking
When a child walks on the toes or ball of the foot without the heel or other parts of the foot coming in contact with the floor. Sometimes there is an underlying condition that can cause a child to walk on the toes, but other times there is not.



Upper extremities


Sitting on your bottom with knee bent and feet pointed out to either side of the hips.

Lacking muscle strength.


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