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Diagnosing Cerebral Palsy

A variety of factors can cause cerebral palsy in newborns—from genetics, to maternal infections, to birth injuries. About 10,000 babies are born in the United States per year with some form of this condition. It can vary dramatically not only in terms of its causes, but also its severity. Less severe cases of CP tend to go undiagnosed for some time after the baby’s birth. For this reason, we should review some of the most familiar signs and symptoms for diagnosing cerebral palsy in infants and children.

Diagnosing Cerebral Palsy

Less severe cases of cerebral palsy tend to go undiagnosed for some time after the baby’s birth. Here are some signs to be aware of.

Missing Developmental Milestones

Most parents are familiar with a given set of developmental milestones. These help parents track the growth and development of their child against what is seen as ‘typical.’

Cerebral palsy is fundamentally a disorder of the brain, but it mostly manifests in terms of physical development. If your child misses key physical milestones, this can be helpful for diagnosing cerebral palsy.

As a typical example, most babies can lift their head at around 1 month, and keep it held up from a sitting position around 4 months in age. If your child has reached these ages but is still unable to do so, you should raise this concern with a doctor. The same applies for other milestones such as crawling and walking.

Stiff or Uncontrollable Movement

Cerebral palsy takes many different forms. The most familiar form is known as ataxic or ‘pyramidal’ CP. This typically results in stiff or incomplete movement of the muscles or joints. As your child grows and develops, you should pay attention to their physical actions. If their movements appear stiff or incomplete, this can be helpful for diagnosing ataxic cerebral palsy.

In contrast, another common form of the disorder is known as athetoid cerebral palsy. This form results in jerky, uncontrollable movements. If your child’s movements appear involuntary, this is something you should take note of.

Difficulty with Fine Motor Skills

Less severe forms of cerebral palsy may not manifest until well into your child’s development. Your child may have no difficulties or delays passing typical developmental milestones, but problems begin to emerge when they enter school.

Sometimes, cerebral palsy only impacts fine motor movement. If this is the case with your child, it might not become obvious until they take up tasks that require finer motor skills. This could include using a pair of scissors, handwriting, or typing. They may also struggle to grasp small objects.

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