Children with cerebral palsy (CP) and no intellectual disabilities develop social skills similarly to typically developing children, regardless of their motor abilities, a new study has found.
The study, titled “Development curves of communication and social interaction in individuals with cerebral palsy,” was published in the journal Developmental Medicine & Child Neurology.
An individual’s social skills can have a tremendous impact on their quality of life. From a healthcare perspective, knowing how social skills tend to develop in particular groups of people — in this case, people with CP — would help patients and their loved ones be well-informed about future expectations post-diagnosis.
The researchers behind the new study looked at data from 121 people with CP (47 females, 74 males) who were followed up for 13 years, beginning when they were children/young adults. The average age of the cohort was 27 years and 10 months (range 21–37 years) at the 13-year follow-up.
The participants’ social and communication skills were assessed at various points in time using the Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scales (VABS), and their motor functioning abilities were measured based the Gross Motor Function Classification System (GMFCS) (higher levels reflect more limited motor function).
One hundred participants did not have any intellectual disability, and, regardless of their GMFCS level, their social skills evolved at a typical pace as children without CP: They were able to understand things said to them by the age of 3 or 4, were able to express themselves verbally around 6 or 7, and acquired coping and writing skills in their early- to mid-teens.
“In communication and social interactions, individuals without intellectual disability in GMFCS levels  to  follow development curves comparable to typically developing individuals,” the researchers said.
“Although poor gross motor function may affect communication and social interactions, it does not reflect communicative and social capabilities,” they said. “Therefore, healthcare professionals should not underestimate the communicative and social capabilities of young individuals with CP based on GMFCS levels.”
Developmental trends were much more varied for the study’s 21 individuals with intellectual disabilities, which makes it difficult to draw broad conclusions, particularly with such a small sample.
“The large variation indicates a need for a personalized approach in rehabilitation for individuals with intellectual disability,” the researchers said.
In this subset of participants, the most severely affected physically (level 5 on GMFCS) also had significantly lower social VABS scores, which suggests that the two may compound each other in extremes, said the investigators, who added that more research is needed.