Psychological problems in children with cerebral palsy: a cross-sectional European study

J Child Psychol Psychiatry. 2008 Apr;49(4):405-13. doi: 10.1111/j.1469-7610.2007.01845.x. Epub 2007 Dec 12.


Objectives: To describe psychological symptoms in 8-12-year-old children with cerebral palsy; to investigate predictors of these symptoms and their impact on the child and family.

Design: A cross-sectional multi-centre survey.

Participants: Eight hundred and eighteen children with cerebral palsy, aged 8-12 years, identified from population-based registers of cerebral palsy in eight European regions and from multiple sources in one further region.

Main outcome measures: The Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ)(P4-16) and the Total Difficulties Score (TDS) dichotomised into normal/borderline (TDS < or = 16) versus abnormal (TDS > 16).

Statistical analysis: Multilevel, multivariable logistic regression to relate the presence of psychological symptoms to child and family characteristics.

Results: About a quarter of the children had TDS > 16 indicating significant psychological symptoms, most commonly in the domain Peer Problems. Better gross motor function, poorer intellect, more pain, having a disabled or ill sibling and living in a town were independently associated with TDS > 16. The risk of TDS > 16 was odds ratio (OR) = .2 (95% CI: .1 to .3) comparing children with the most and least severe functional limitations; OR = 3.2 (95%CI: 2.1 to 4.8) comparing children with IQ < 70 and others; OR = 2.7 (95% CI: 1.5 to 4.6) comparing children in severe pain and others; OR = 2.7 (95% CI:1.6 to 4.6) comparing children with another disabled sibling or OR = 1.8 (95%CI: 1.2 to 2.8) no siblings and others; OR = 1.8 (95% CI: 1.1 to 2.8) comparing children resident in a town and others. Among parents who reported their child to have psychological problems, 95% said they had lasted over a year, 37% said they distressed their child and 42% said they burdened the family at least 'quite a lot'.

Conclusions: A significant proportion of children with cerebral palsy have psychological symptoms or social impairment sufficiently severe to warrant referral to specialist services. Care must be taken in the assessment and management of children with cerebral palsy to ensure psychological problems are not overlooked and potentially preventable risk factors like pain are treated effectively. The validity of the SDQ for children with severe disability warrants further assessment.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study

MeSH terms

  • Affective Symptoms / epidemiology*
  • Affective Symptoms / psychology
  • Cerebral Palsy / epidemiology*
  • Cerebral Palsy / psychology
  • Child
  • Child Behavior Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Child Behavior Disorders / psychology
  • Comorbidity
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Disability Evaluation
  • Europe
  • Female
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Intellectual Disability / epidemiology
  • Intellectual Disability / psychology
  • Male
  • Pain / epidemiology
  • Pain / psychology
  • Peer Group
  • Personality Assessment
  • Referral and Consultation / statistics & numerical data
  • Risk Factors
  • Siblings
  • Sick Role
  • Social Adjustment*
  • Social Environment