Both cerebral palsy and autism spectrum disorder are umbrella terms, meaning that they cover a lot of various conditions and severities.
Cerebral palsy and autism can present themselves one way in one person and completely different in another.
This article will go over the differences and similarities between cerebral palsy and autism, as well as what to expect when they co-occur.
Comparing Cerebral Palsy and Autism
Roughly 7% of children with cerebral palsy also have autism spectrum disorder.
These 2 disorders are not related to one another but commonly co-occur and affect childhood development.
Cerebral palsy is a motor disorder, meaning that it mainly affects one’s ability to move.
In contrast, autism is a cognitive disorder that affects one’s behavior and communication skills.
One is a physical disorder while the other is psychiatric.
A combination of these two complex disorders can be a little bit tricky. Children with autism typically prefer doing things on their own; however, the motor impairments caused by CP may require some dependence.
Both conditions allow a lot of room for misunderstandings and difficult interactions.
Just like any developmental disorder, the severity can range quite a bit and no two cases of cerebral palsy or autism will be exactly alike.
Many people with cerebral palsy can independently walk, and many people with autism can speak and are extremely intelligent.
Differences in Development
Cerebral palsy is the result of brain damage before, during, or after birth into early childhood.
While autism also develops during these early stages of life, symptoms may not present themselves until the infant gets a little bit older.
Because cerebral palsy is a motor impairment, its symptoms are usually more apparent at earlier ages than autism.
Most children with autism spectrum disorder are diagnosed after age 4 because common signs of autism like tantrums, inability to speak, and lack of eye contact often just seem like normal things for infants to do.
Common Signs of Autism
As previously mentioned, autism is a spectrum disorder. The signs apparent in one person with autism may be completely different in another.
Common signs of autism include:
- Poor use of eye contact, facial expressions, and gestures
- Difficulty understanding social situations and body language
- Uncontrollable outbursts
- Repetitive or obsessive behavior and movements
- Difficulties making friends and initiating/ sustaining conversations
- Delay in or complete lack of speech
- Being extremely particular about how things are done and stubborn about change
- Hypersensitivity to sounds or touch
There used to be 5 different types of autism (Asperger’s. autistic disorder, pervasive developmental disorder, childhood disintegrative syndrome, and Rett syndrome).
However, all these different types of autism were confusing to differentiate due to inconsistent diagnoses.
So in 2013, it was decided that all the symptoms would fall under the single diagnosis of “autism spectrum disorder.”
Severity is classified into 3 different levels (from level 1 indicating mild to level 3 indicating severe).
What Causes Autism?
Multiple genetic and environmental factors can contribute to autism, but the exact cause is still unknown.
Autism can be genetic, but not always. Sometimes parents of children with autism don’t have a family history of the disorder and it’s the result of a genetic mutation.
Studies show that the chances of both identical twins having autism are about 36-95% while the chances of both fraternal twins having autism are about 31%.
Parents with an autistic child should also be aware that the chances of having a second child with autism range from 2-18%.
Other factors that increase the risk of having a child with autism include increased parental age, prenatal exposure to chemicals, premature birth, and oxygen deprivation.
Vaccines do not cause autism and many studies find vaccines safe for disease prevention.
Managing Cerebral Palsy and Autism
There is no cure to reverse the effects of cerebral palsy and autism.
However, your child can learn to effectively manage these developmental disorders through various types of therapy.
Physical therapy will help your child improve their strength and mobility.
Occupational therapy will teach your child activities of daily living like using the bathroom or putting on clothes.
Speech therapy will teach your child how to communicate and socialize more effectively.
Behavior therapy will help your child phase-out of unhealthy or destructive behaviors.
Early intervention is important for promoting verbal communication and social skills in children with autism.
Younger brains are more malleable and have a better chance of recovery.
Hopefully, this article helped you understand what to expect when your child has cerebral palsy and autism.
Keep in mind that your child’s condition is unique. What works for some kids with CP and autism may not work for yours.
Nobody knows your child as well as you do, so be patient and pay attention to his/her behaviors, triggers, and preferences.
Don’t be afraid to experiment. With time, you’ll discover what coping mechanisms, exercises, and forms of communication work best for your child.