Feldman-Winter L, Krueger C, Neyhart J, McAbee G. Public perceptions of cerebral palsy. J Am Osteopath Assoc 2002;102(9):471–475. doi: 10.7556/jaoa.2002.102.9.471.
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Neurologic disorders are often described in terms that relate to symptoms rather than specific etiologic factors. Such descriptive terms are confusing to healthcare professionals and to the parents of children in whom these disorders are diagnosed. Cerebral palsy is one example of a descriptive term that is applied to a disorder that is heterogeneous in its etiology, morbidity, and mortality. A random sampling of 100 adults selected from the waiting room of a suburban ambulatory pediatrics office associated with the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey-School of Osteopathic Medicine (Stratford, NJ) was surveyed with a 20-item questionnaire on their perceptions of the term cerebral palsy and its associated disability and prognosis. Subjects' responses suggest that a percentage of the general population holds several misconceptions about the disorder, including the belief that the disorder has a genetic etiology (40%) and that affected children cannot speak (20%), die earlier than unaffected children (57%), and cannot hold jobs as adults (20%) should they survive to adulthood. A small percentage of subjects believe that cerebral palsy is infectious (4%) and that parents should restrict their children from associating with those affected (3%). Our study population was somewhat homogenous in that most respondents were educated and most were middle to upper-middle class. Yet, even in this population, the term cerebral palsy is ambiguous to many and may have negative connotations. Further studies are needed to address whether a higher frequency of negative perceptions are present in more socioeconomically diverse populations.
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