Cerebral palsy factsheet


Cerebral palsy is the name for a group of conditions that cause problems with movement and balance. Cerebral palsy is a permanent condition and is the most common cause of physical disability in children. 

Children with cerebral palsy may need support throughout their life with:

  • talking
  • eating
  • going to the toilet
  • seeing
  • hearing
  • learning.

 Signs and symptoms


Children with cerebral palsy have trouble sending messages from their brains to their muscles. This means they can have trouble moving properly. Every child with cerebral palsy is different. Some children can have a mix of the movement issues listed below.


Spasticity is stiffness in the muscles that can make movement difficult. 


Dyskinesia is uncontrolled or involuntary movements. A common type of dyskinesia is dystonia. 

Dystonia is when a child has movements that are: 

  • slow and twisting
  • repetitive
  • stuck in abnormal positions for long periods. 

Other types of dyskinesia are:

  • chorea - sudden jerky movements
  • athetosis - slow writhing movements.


Ataxia is unsteady shaky movements or tremors.

Parts of the body affected

Hemiplegic cerebral palsy one side of the body is affected.

Diplegic cerebral palsyboth sides of the body are affected.

Quadriplegic cerebral palsyboth arms and legs are affected.


The Gross Motor Function Classification System (GMFCS) levels are most used to describe how mobile a child is and how their mobility affects their functioning.

Everyday activities are rated according to the child’s level of ability, on a scale of 1 to 5. 

Each level is decided by how independent a child is and how much support they need to do the activity.

Level 1: Walks independently without limitations.

Level 2: Walks independently in most settings. Needs a rail for stairs.

Level 3: Walks with a walking frame indoors and uses a wheelchair in the community.

Level 4: Needs physical help or a powered wheelchair for mobility.

Level 5:  Needs a manual wheelchair for transportation by carers.


Cerebral palsy can be difficult to diagnose. Your child’s doctor will need to make sure there are no other conditions that are causing issues with movement.

Your child’s doctor will be able to make a diagnosis of cerebral palsy based on:

  • any physical signs of issues with muscles and movement
  • any delays your child might have with developing movement like sitting, rolling or crawling
  • CT and MRI scans to check the brain.


Currently, there is no known cure for cerebral palsy. 

Treatment and management of cerebral palsy focuses on:

  • checking for and treating any other physical or developmental problems
  • supporting your child’s learning and development
  • supporting your child to be an active member of the community
  • supporting your child to build their capacity to live an independent life.

Every person with cerebral palsy is unique, just like everyone else. The level of support needed will be different for every child and may change throughout their life.


Causes of cerebral palsy

Cerebral palsy can be caused by problems with brain development during pregnancy and damage to the brain. Damage to the brain that causes cerebral palsy can happen during pregnancy, at birth, or in the first few years of life.

Some babies are more at risk of developing cerebral palsy. Risks include:

  • being born prematurely or with a small birth weight
  • having a serious infection
  • having another condition or difference at birth
  • not having enough oxygen during or after birth
  • having severe jaundice.

Support for learning and development

Children with cerebral palsy can get good support for learning and development through early intervention services and the NDIS. 

The type of services and funding you can access will depend on the type of support your child needs, and how old they are.

Speak to your child’s treatment team for more information about early intervention and the NDIS.

Resources and more information

Cerebral Palsy Alliance

Cerebral Palsy Alliance

Email Send email
Phone1300 888 378
Cerebral Palsy Alliance is a global centre of expertise for cerebral palsy research, advocacy, intervention and assistive technology innovation, based in Australia.

Their website provides links to support, resources and volunteering opportunities.
Related Links
National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS)

National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS)

Email Send email
Phone1800 800 110
The National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) supports people with a permanent and significant disability that affects their ability to take part in everyday activities.
Related Links
CP Register

Australian Cerebral Palsy Register

Email Send email
Phone(02) 9975 8000
A confidential database that collects information about people with cerebral palsy for research and evaluation.
Related Links
Cerebral Palsy Australia

Cerebral Palsy Australia

Phone(02) 8295 7725
A national not-for-profit providing a voice for cerebral palsy awareness.
Related Links
Cerebral Palsy Foundation - Discovery for disability

Cerebral Palsy Foundation

Email Send email
An international not-for-profit that provides useful resources on cerebral palsy.
Related Links
Last updated Tuesday 16th April 2024


This factsheet is provided for general information only. It does not constitute health advice and should not be used to diagnose or treat any health condition.

Please consult with your doctor or other health professional to make sure this information is right for you and/or your child.

The Sydney Children’s Hospitals Network does not accept responsibility for inaccuracies or omissions, the interpretation of the information, or for success or appropriateness of any treatment described in the factsheet.

© Sydney Children’s Hospitals Network 2024