Who first identified cerebral palsy?
The first person to put pen to paper and identify cerebral palsy, albeit spastic cerebral palsy was the English surgeon William John Little (1810 – 1894). From childhood Little suffered poor health with a number of serious illnesses and following a bout of polio he developed clubfoot.
Little was admitted to the Royal College of Surgeons at the age of 22 . During his studies Little had befriend the German surgeon Dr Georg Friedrich Louis Stromeyer who later went on to cure Little’s clubfoot. Following the successful surgery Dr Little went on to perform the same and other procedures in England, his work being successful Dr Little went on to found the Royal Orthopaedic Hospital in London.
Dr William Little produced his first papers in 1837 discussing surgery on tendons and followed up a number of other publications including one in 1853 about muscular dystrophy.
In 1861 he published papers describing cerebral palsy which he presented to the packed Obstetrical Society of London. Using the term ‘Spastic Cerebral Palsy’ his work was well regarded and the condition which is known today as cerebral palsy was called Little’s Disease.
Although Dr William Little was credited to be the first to identify a type of cerebral palsy, spastic cerebral palsy, it was the man considered to be the father of modern medicine Sir William Osler (1849 – 1928) who is credited with the first use of the word Cerebral Palsy as a description of the many types of the condition.
In 1889 Sir Ostler wrote about “The Cerebral Palsies of Children” and in the same year he became the supreme medial head in England with the title of Chief of Medicine.
Sir William Osler went to become eminent at Oxford University in 1905 and was knighted in 1911 for his contributions to medicine.
Sigmund Freud (1865-1939) was another notable in the discovery of cerebral palsy following publications which contradicted Little’s earlier findings. Little had made clear he thought that spastic cerebral palsy was due to oxygen starvation or asphyxia at birth. However Freud a renowned neurologist disagreed stating it was an issue to the developing foetus rather than an injury during birth.
In fact both are correct, however in Little’s findings asphyxia accounts for only 10% of cerebral palsy cases. It was to be a hundred years before Freud’s findings was accepted.