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Physical Disability

Fact Sheet

What is a Physical Disability?

A disability is an umbrella term that covers impairments, activity limitations and participation restrictions. An impairment is a problem in body function or structure. Activity limitation is a difficulty encountered by an individual in executing a task or action. A participation restriction is a problem experienced by an individual with involvement in life situations.

A physical disability is any condition that permanently prevents body movement and/or control. There are many different types of physical disabilities.

How is it manifested?

Most common types

  1. Neuromuscular disorders: are a group of diseases that weaken the body’s muscles. The causes, symptoms, age of onset, severity and progression vary depending on the exact diagnosis and the individual. When a child has a muscular dystrophy, this means that the muscle fibres in the body gradually weaken over time. Children can have different types of Muscular Dystrophy. The most common type is Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, which occurs only in boys. All types of Muscular Dystrophy are genetic even though other family members may not have the condition.
  2. Acquired brain and spinal injuries may result from permanent injuries to the brain, spinal cord, or limbs that prevent proper movement in parts of the body.
  3. Spina Bifida: is a neural-tube birth defect which occurs within the first four weeks of pregnancy. The spinal column fails to develop properly, resulting in varying degrees of permanent damage to the spinal cord and nervous system. Infants born with Spina Bifida may have an open lesion on their spine where significant damage to the nerves and spinal cord occurs. Although the spinal opening is surgically repaired shortly after birth, the nerve damage is permanent. This results in varying degrees of paralysis of the lower limbs, depending largely on the location and severity of the lesion. Even with no visible lesion, there may be improperly formed or missing vertebrae and accompanying nerve damage.
  4. Hydrocephalus comes from the Greek word “hydro”, meaning water and “cephalus” meaning head. It is a neurological condition that exists when excess cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) builds up in cavities, called ventricles, inside the brain. Fluid accumulates in the ventricles when the body produces more CSF in a day than it can reabsorb. This accumulation causes enlargement of the ventricles, resulting in Hydrocephalus. Hydrocephalus is usually treated by surgically implanting a shunt that takes excess CSF from the brain to another part of the body.
  5. Cerebral Palsy refers to a group of disorders that occur in infancy, affecting a person’s muscular and nervous systems. CP is not a disease or illness, but rather a broad term that describes a group of non-progressive brain disturbances that impair the developing brain’s ability to control some muscles, especially those affecting movement and posture.
  6. Stroke happens when blood stops flowing to any part of the brain. This interruption causes damage to the brain cells which cannot be repaired or replaced. The effects of the stroke depend on the part of the brain that was damaged and the amount of damage done.

How is it diagnosed or detected?

Some conditions may be detected at birth. Paediatricians can refer a child to a specialist if concerned about a child’s muscle tone and reflexes.

Additional Resources:

HYDROCEPHALUS CANADA (formerly Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus Association of Ontario)
The organization has grown to provide a comprehensive and essential range of services for parents, families, youth and adults with Spina Bifida and/or Hydrocephalus (SP&H). Programs are rooted in the principles of self-help and personal support. The SBHAO also serves the broader community which includes: parents who receive pre-natal diagnosis of SB&H; extended family members; all women of child-bearing age concerned about the benefits of folic acid in the prevention of neural tube defects; and a wide spectrum of professionals in the social services, medical, health and educational fields.

Ontario Federation for Cerebral
The Ontario Federation for Cerebral Palsy is a non-profit, charitable organization with a mandate to address the changing needs of people in Ontario with Cerebral Palsy.

Muscular Dystrophy
Muscular Dystrophy Canada is committed to improving the quality of life for the tens of thousands of Canadians with neuromuscular disorders and funding leading research for the discovery of therapies and cures for neuromuscular disorders. The organization strives to ensure that people with neuromuscular disorders lead full and engaged lives by providing services that increase mobility and encourage independence.

Spinal cord Injury

March of

Services for Persons with
Access to services and information for persons with disabilities, family members, caregivers and all Canadians.

Books and Literature:

It’s OK to Be Me! Just Like You I Can Do Almost Anything!
by Jennifer Moore-Mallinos

Just One of the Kids: Raising a Resilient family When One of Your children Has a Physical Disability
by Kay Harris Kriegsman & Sara Palmer

The Survival Guide fo Kids with Physical Disabilities & Challenges
by Wendy Moss & Susan Taddonio

The Exceptional Child: Inclusion in Early Childhood Education
by K. Eileen

Creative Play Activities for Children with Disabilities – 2nd Edition
by Linda Rappaport

Children with Cerebral Palsy: A Parents’ Guide – Second Edition
Editor: Elaine Geralis

The content contained in this document is for general information purposes. It is not the intention to diagnose or treat a child.

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