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Aim  Children with cerebral palsy (CP) are reported to have learning and social problems. The aim of the present study was to examine whether children with CP have impairments in attention or executive function.

Method  We examined attention and executive function with standardized neuropsychological measures in a group of children with unilateral (n=15) or bilateral (n=18) spastic CP (14 females, 19 males, mean age 11y 4mo, SD 1y 1mo, range 9y 1mo–13y 7mo; Gross Motor Function Classification System level I n=22, II n=3, III n=6, and IV n=2). Performance was compared with test norms.

Results  Verbal cognitive functioning fell within the normal range, whereas sustained (p=0.001) and divided attention (p<0.001) were found to be impaired. Greater impairment was observed in executive function in general (p<0.001) and in inhibition (p=0.038) and shifting (p<0.001) in particular. No significant difference was found between types of CP (unilateral and bilateral). Performance of all timed tasks was slower than the test norm (p<0.00).

Interpretation  The finding of slower performances across tasks may indicate a general impairment in efficiency of information processing in relation to white-matter lesions. Impairments in attention and executive functions are present in children with CP and may help to explain why these children have increased social and learning problems.