Cerebral Palsy Symptoms

Cerebral Palsy is a condition that affects the brain and central nervous system of an infant or child. It results in motor and coordination impairments. It’s frequently the result of a complication, such as oxygen deprivation or head trauma, that occurs before, during or shortly after delivery.

The special needs of a child who has cerebral palsy affect the whole family, and can impose physical, emotional and financial hardships. The condition is associated with a lifetime of expensive therapies and costly interventions.

Before anything can be done, it’s critical to understand what to look for if you suspect your child may be affected by this condition. There are specific signs and symptoms associated with cerebral palsy. It’s important to remember, however, that a diagnosis can only be made by a licensed medical professional after an exam and specific tests.

It’s important to note that symptoms of cerebral palsy vary from one child to the next. It is not a condition that affects all individuals in the same way. Cerebral palsy actually refers to a group of conditions, so severity also varies for each patient.

Specific Cerebral Palsy Symptoms

One of the first indications of cerebral palsy in a child may be marked developmental delays. Children with cerebral palsy may be delayed in reaching key growth milestones like rolling over, sitting, crawling and/or walking. This is because cerebral palsy causes an impairment of muscle tone, gross and fine motor functions, balance, control, reflexes and posture, which all relate to movement and overall development.

Other cerebral palsy symptoms include:

  • Muscle tone variations (think too stiff or too floppy)
  • Lack of muscle coordination
  • Head control issues
  • Persistence of "infantile" reflexes and movements
  • Slow, or even writhing, movements
  • Persistent awkward limb positioning
  • Involuntary movements such as tremors or spasms
  • Weak or shrill cries
  • Shortened limbs (either overall or a single limb)
  • The favoring of one side of the body (consistently engaging only one hand or dragging a leg or foot while trying to crawl)
  • Walking abnormalities like walking on toes or an unusual gait
  • Abnormal spine curvature
  • Swallowing or feeding difficulties
  • Impaired depth perception
  • Speech impairment or delays
  • Excessive drooling
  • Difficulty with sucking
  • Trouble with precise movements (like picking up food or a crayon)
  • Unusual posture
  • Frequent falls
  • Increased infections
  • Poor facial muscle tone, and more

Associated Disorders and Indications

Because cerebral palsy directly impacts the brain and brain functions, other conditions are frequently found concurrently with cerebral palsy. These include (but are not limited to):

  • Sensory impairment (frequently vision and hearing problems)
  • Seizures
  • Learning disabilities
  • Mental retardation
  • Abnormal pain perception
  • Unusual reactions to touch
  • Dental abnormalities
  • Bowel and/or urinary incontinence

When any of the above symptoms are present, they may contribute to an official, clinical diagnosis of cerebral palsy. The symptoms may affect the entire body or may be limited to one side of the body or even a single limb. Because the injury is a one-time occurrence, the symptoms generally do not worsen with age; they may just become more apparent as development progresses. The exceptions to this statement are muscle shortening and muscle rigidity, which require aggressive treatment from the start to prevent worsening.

Cerebral palsy is not always diagnosed at birth, although if the delivery was traumatic for any number of reasons, or, if the pregnancy was associated with significant risk factors, doctors may watch for symptoms of the condition from the start. However, in many cases, the parents are the first to notice developmental delays and to suspect an underlying condition.

Because (barring a severe case), the symptoms frequently do not appear until later (even during the first three to five years of life), it is important to observe your child’s development carefully. If you suspect cerebral palsy or any other condition, it is important to consult a physician and to ask about testing to rule out or confirm it. It’s important to note that because the condition may become more pronounced with time-due to brain development-some tests may not detect cerebral palsy from the start. A cerebral palsy diagnosis often takes time and multiple tests.

Early diagnosis is paramount to successful treatment and long-term function. Early intervention and other protocols help to manage the condition. In fact, in some situations, families may qualify for government benefit programs to provide assistance.

If you recognize the aforementioned signs in your child, it is best to seek the opinion of a certified medical professional as soon as possible. While the condition cannot be reversed, early management is critical.