“What is the difference between hemiplegia, hemiparesis, and hemiplegic cerebral palsy?” This is a question commonly asked by parents of kids after they hear it from a doctor or therapist or read it in an educational assessment, insurance claim, or somewhere on the internet.
Hemiplegia means paralysis of one side of the body.
Hemiparesis means a slight paralysis or weakness on one side of the body.
Cerebral palsy is a broad term referring to abnormalities of motor control or movement of the body caused by an injury to a child’s brain. The brain injury can occur before birth, during birth, or in the first few months following birth and physical symptoms, like hemiplegia or hemiparesis, generally appear in the first few years of life. A child with weakness or paralysis on one side of the body may receive a medical diagnosis of hemiplegic cerebral palsy.
People sometimes discuss right or left sided hemiplegia, depending on where on the body the child is experiencing the weakness. An injury to the right side of the brain will cause left hemiplegia (left side of body is weak) and an injury to the left side of the brain will cause right hemiplegia (right side of body is weak). Common abbreviations for these conditions in social media groups are often RH (right hemiplegia or hemiparesis) and LH (left hemiplegia or hemiparesis).
For practical purpose, parents and medical professionals often use the terms hemiplegia, hemiparesis, and hemiplegic cerebral palsy interchangeably. These labels are useful for obtaining insurance coverage, educational services, and other disability-related services. Feeling sad or anxious when you first hear these labels is normal. When you start feeling down, remember this parent’s advice – “Your child is the same wonderful child he or she was before a label was needed. Nothing has changed. Use the labels when they will help your child.”