History of Cerebral Palsy
In the 1860s, English surgeon William Little wrote the first medical description of cerebral palsy, describing a condition that caused stiff, spastic muscles in the legs and sometimes in the arms of young children. Dr. Little found that these children had difficulty with grasping objects, walking and crawling, and that their condition exacerbated over time. He believed that the disorder was caused by difficult births – that the baby took too long in the birth canal which resulted in oxygen deprivation. The condition was named “Little’s disease,” after William Little. In 1887, Sir William Osler, and English physician, popularized the term “cerebral palsy,” which the condition is known as today.
Ten years later in 1897, Austrian psychiatrist Sigmund Freud disputed Little’s findings. Freud reported that children with cerebral palsy manifested additional symptoms, including mental retardation, seizures and visual disturbances. His findings led him to believe that the condition developed even before the birth of the child during fetal development.
Even though Freud was regarded as a world famous psychiatrist, Little’s theory prevailed. It was not until the 1980s during a government study that scientists discovered that Little’s theory was not entirely correct, nor was Freud’s. The study revealed that birth complications may be a cause of cerebral palsy, but only a small percentage of cerebral palsy cases were attributed to difficult births.
Today, researchers are still looking into other possible causes of cerebral palsy. Some of the possible causes of cerebral palsy include birth difficulties, head trauma after birth, infant bacterial or viral infections, and maternal infections during pregnancy.