Is there a link between cerebral palsy and autism?

Is There A Cerebral Palsy And Autism Connection?

Not in the way most people might think, no.  The two developmental disorders are not directly related or connected; however, cerebral palsy affects many children and because it is a direct result of brain damage during or after pregnancy and birth, most children who are now being diagnosed with cerebral palsy are also diagnosed with autism.  It’s assumed that there are possible shared causes because children with cerebral palsy clearly show signs of autism.

In fact, the two share far less with each other than they do with other disorders in the same diagnostic clusters.  With CP, different parts of the brain are affected by a lack of oxygen during the child’s birth.  It is not a developmental disorder, as autism is, but rather one that was created from trauma prenatally, during birth, or after birth in the the first twelve months of life.  A child with CP does not develop in the womb that way, nor is he/ she predestined by any factors currently associated with developmental disorders prior to having CP.  It is rather a set of unfortunate circumstances or abuse that causes a child to have CP; CP can’t “develop”, it just is when the circumstances are present.

Autism on the other hand presents a normal child in utero, with a fairly normal birth and fairly normal development up to age two or three.  They may lag behind peers in developmental milestones by two weeks to six weeks, but since that is also a reasonable range of development for any child, the truest indicators come when the child’s language skills are obviously delayed.  It’s as though they were growing and developing normally, and suddenly their biological clock began to slow down or reverse itself, depending on the severity of the disorder.

Neurological scans show that there is a very different shape and size associated with the autistic brain, which is why some people might try to link CP to autism.  Both CP and autism show brain damage of sorts, but babies whose brains were damaged at birth and were diagnosed with CP are already clearly different than the brain scans of all other children.  Since children with autism do not present brain damage at birth and it appears slowly later on, CP and autism are not conclusively linked in this way.  (We know this not because mothers allowed their babies to receive an MRI or cat scan, but because babies who were still born or died accidentally as toddlers had their bodies donated to science.)

Poor muscle development and control are signatures of CP, but not of autism.  Most kids with autism have fairly good muscle development and control, but their muscles aren’t connecting to their brains as well.  This may seem like the same thing, but it isn’t.  A person with CP can’t run; a child with autism can, but lacks coordination.  Different areas of the brain are affected with both disorders, and kids with CP don’t have a lot of muscle to begin with.

There is a lot of hoopla going around now where some doctors are telling patients that their children have both CP and autism.  While it is highly possible to have comorbid diagnoses because of the damaged brain tissue with CP, there is no other link between them.  The advice that any pediatrician in his / her right mind would give is that the child start with some form of therapy, physical and/ or communicative, and work on that to see if there is any sort of dramatic change.  It’s easier to sort out what the real diagnosis is once the actual signs and symptoms have been clearly pronounced during and after therapy.

Another assumption is that autism and CP share a common cause.  Since it has been ascertained that mercury can damage the brain and central nervous system, many parents have been led to believe that their children were exposed to levels of mercury in utero or after birth through vaccines, and that is why their children have CP and/ or autism.  This has not been proven as fact; it is still a theory for both disorders, and since it is medically unethical to expose infants and toddlers to high enough amounts of mercury in order to verify this as true, parents should ignore it altogether.  (eHow.com actually has the chutzpah to relay it as fact!)

The only other thing that autism and CP have in common is that they are both “umbrella” diagnoses.  Both have varying degrees of severity within their own cluster.  Even IF a child actually has both, it is extremely hard to tell what is what when the child presents a symptom because the emotional and psychological issues can present as the other disorder.  Parents need to be exceedingly observant and try to record anything that doesn’t seem to fit with either disorder or fits better with the one over the other.

At times, mental retardation can be present with children who have CP and/ or autism, and that is, quite possibly, the very last link the two disorders can have.  Still, it makes it next to impossible to tell one disorder from another at times, and a clearcut primary axis diagnosis helps.  A team of physical and mental specialists can work together to figure it out.

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3 thoughts on “Is there a link between cerebral palsy and autism?”

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