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High-Functioning Cerebral Palsy: Living with Mild Motor Impairments

understanding high functioning cerebral palsy

Individuals with high-functioning cerebral palsy can generally go about their everyday lives with a great deal of independence.

This is because their motor impairments don’t significantly interfere with their ability to perform self-care activities, participate in daily roles, or enjoy leisure activities.

This article will explain what determines the severity of one’s CP, what high-functioning cerebral palsy looks like, and how to improve mild motor impairments.

High-Functioning Cerebral Palsy

The phrase “high-functioning” isn’t regularly used to describe individuals with cerebral palsy.

Generally, when “high-functioning” is used, it will be referring to conditions like depression, anxiety, or autism spectrum disorder.

If a person is high-functioning, it means that they are able to take care of themselves most of the time without their conditions significantly getting in the way or limiting them.

If someone with cerebral palsy is high-functioning, they likely have mild cerebral palsy.

However, it’s important to understand that individuals with more severe motor impairments can also be very independent.

For example, people who only have motor impairments in their legs will have completely normal use of their arms and can carry out tasks like brushing their teeth, maneuvering their wheelchairs, and eating with no problems.  They may even be able to walk with crutches or a walker and be able to complete transfers without assistance.

What Does High-Functioning Cerebral Palsy Look Like?

high functioning cerebral palsy symptoms

Cerebral palsy is caused by damage to the developing brain before or during birth, or in early childhood.

If a child has mild cerebral palsy, they likely have less severe brain damage.

If your child has cerebral palsy and is high-functioning, they may demonstrate:

Stiff Movements

Generally, the more severe an individual’s cerebral palsy is, the more areas of the body will be affected.

Mild CP is associated with less severe brain damage, so individuals will usually not have motor impairments throughout their entire bodies.

Instead, it is more likely that just their legs or one side of the body will be affected. They may even just have one limb that is affected.

While children with mild CP can generally move affected areas, their affected muscles will likely have high tone due to involuntary contractions. Because these muscles cannot fully relax, movements can appear stiff.

Over-Dependence on Unaffected Areas

Children with mild cerebral palsy may learn to become over-dependent on non-affected limbs to compensate for their motor impairments.

For example, if a child has motor impairments on their right side, they might develop a habit of only using their left side to perform tasks (developmental disregard).

While it’s typical to have a dominant side, children must practice using both sides of their body at the same time to develop bilateral coordination skills and to ensure that their affected body parts don’t become more severely impaired. Although using their affected body parts will likely require extra effort initially, it should get easier over time.

Can High-Functioning Individuals Treat Their Cerebral Palsy?

treatment for mild motor impairments

While individuals with mild cerebral palsy have less brain damage, CP is a life-long condition.

Damage to the brain is static and non-progressive. This means that although it will not worsen over time, it also cannot heal itself.

Luckily, the brain has neuroplasticity (the ability to rewire damaged functions to healthy areas of the brain).

Less damage to the brain equals more healthy neural pathways for neuroplasticity to occur.

In order to promote neuroplasticity, children need to consistently practice moving with correct form. This will stimulate the brain to rewire itself and strengthen new sets of neural pathways.

Practicing task-specific and highly repetitive movements will train the brain to create new habits that can replace abnormal movement patterns.

Understanding Mild Cerebral Palsy

Cerebral palsy is a childhood motor disability, meaning that it only directly affects one’s movements.

Although it is very common (50%) for individuals with CP to have co-occurring intellectual disabilities, it is less likely to occur among children with mild CP because they have less severe damage to the brain.

Therefore, they can be very high-functioning because their physical and mental states will not significantly restrict their ability to learn or move.

By promoting neuroplasticity through massed practice, children with mild cerebral palsy can train their brains to adopt new movement patterns and improve their mobility.

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More Ways to Recover with Flint Rehab:

Free CP Tips Ebook

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You’re Really on a Roll: Discover a Program for CP That’s Actually Fun to Do!

At Flint Rehab, we understand that doing physical therapy at home can become tedious and repetitive. But when repetition is critical to recovery, it’s important to stick with a repetitive regimen. But that doesn’t mean it has to be boring.

Flint Rehab is the leading manufacturer of motion-sensing, gamified rehabilitation devices. Our bestselling recovery tool, FitMi, transforms full-body rehab exercises into an interactive experience.

See what individuals with CP are saying about FitMi:

“The FitMi and MusicGlove have done wonders for my son with hemiparesis from cerebral palsy and stroke. It motivates him to do his exercises. It does not seem like therapy for him since it is fun. FitMi monitors his progress so it is a great reinforcement for him. Music is a motivator for him. He has been using it on his arm and we will try the leg exercises soon.”


While FitMi is a recovery tool for the full-body, our other device, MusicGlove, helps target the hand to improve fine motor skills and dexterity.

See what others have said about MusicGlove:

“My granddaughter has right-side hemiplegia from Cerebral Palsy / stroke at birth. She states that this is a great product for anyone who has issues with the use of their hand(s), and that is has helped her tremendously. She also finds the music quite catchy (surprisingly!). Our occupational therapist has been impressed as well. I can say that it has arguably been the best tool of all our therapy resources.”


Together, FitMi and MusicGlove make a powerful home therapy regimen for individuals with cerebral palsy. Best of all, you can save money when you bundle them together.

To learn more, click the button below:

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