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Cerebral Palsy Symptoms

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Cerebral palsy is a group of disorders that affect movement, balance and posture. Cerebral palsy symptoms include developmental delays, abnormal muscle tone, uncontrolled movements, irregular gait and/or weaknesses in certain areas of the body. The cause(s) of cerebral palsy can occur up until the age of 3 but a definitive diagnosis may be delayed until a child reaches the age of 5 or older.

If a doctor suspects cerebral palsy, he will want to begin cerebral palsy treatment as quickly as possible. In addition, he will make sure the symptoms don't worsen, as this could indicate a progressive disease or disorder other than cerebral palsy. However, in some cases cerebral palsy symptoms can change or even disappear as the child's nervous system develops.

If you believe that your child developed cerebral palsy due to someone else's negligence, contact a personal injury lawyer who can evaluate your case and provide you with examples of settlements related to cerebral palsy.

Early Warning Signs of Cerebral Palsy

Failing to Reach Developmental Milestones. Many children with cerebral palsy are developmentally delayed. These children may be slow to learn how to roll over, sit, crawl, smile or walk. Developmental delays are the primary early warning sign that a child may have cerebral palsy.

Persistence of Infantile Reflexes. Doctors will monitor the Moro or "startle" reflex (when the baby is alarmed it will spread its arms and legs wide and throw its head back) and the asymmetric tonic neck or "fencer" reflex (the baby's head is turned to one side and the arm and leg on the side the child is looking toward is extended and other arm and leg flexed as if in a fencing pose). If these reflexes do not disappear after 6 to 12 months of age, they may be a warning sign of cerebral palsy.

Abnormal Muscle Tone. If a baby appears "stiff," this may indicate hypertonia (increased muscle tone), which is the hallmark of spastic cerebral palsy. If the baby appears unusually "floppy," this may indicate hypotonia (decreased muscle tone) — a characteristic of dyskinetic cerebral palsy.


Early Hand Preference. If a baby shows a preference for the right or left hand before 6 to 12 months of age, this can indicate weakness or abnormal muscle tone on one side of the body and this too is an early symptom of cerebral palsy.

Parents who are concerned about their child's development should talk to the child's pediatrician in order to learn how to distinguish normal lags in development from early warning signs of cerebral palsy. Sometimes actions that occur during the birthing process can cause cerebral palsy (birth defect cerebral palsy). In some cases, these actions can be a result of negligence on the part of the birthing staff. If you believe that your child's cerebal palsy may have occurred due to negligence, a personal injury attorney can evaluate your situation, determine your legal rights and help you reach a settlement with those responsible.

Presentation of Cerebral Palsy

Cerebral palsy symptoms depend largely on what type of cerebral palsy the patient has (spastic, dyskinetic, ataxic or mixed).

Spastic Cerebral Palsy. The most common form of cerebral palsy, spastic cerebral palsy accounts for about 70 to 80 percent of all cases.1 Affected children typically exhibit hypertonia and awkward movements in some or all areas of the body. In some cases, a period of hypotonia may be observed in an infant before cerebral palsy symptoms shift toward spasticity. Spasticity generally does not occur until the age of 6 months.2

There are different types of spastic cerebral palsy based on the area of the body affected:

  • Spastic hemiplegia primarily affects upper extremities on one side of the body more than the lower extremities. Children with spastic hemiplegia may have learning disabilities, seizures, early hand preference, weakness on one side of the body, delayed walking, toe walking, shortened limbs on the affected side of the body, partial loss of vision and drooling and/or difficulty eating and speaking due to oromotor dysfunction (inability to control muscles of lips, mouth and tongue).
  • Spastic diplegia primarily affects the lower extremities. Children with spastic displegia may turn in or "scissor" their legs when walking. Seizures and learning disabilities are less common in these children.
  • Spastic quadriplegia is the most severe form of cerebral palsy and is characterized by stiffness in all limbs in the body (the legs equally if not more than the arms) and a floppy neck. Children with spastic quadriplegia rarely walk and may have significant oromotor dysfunction, mental retardation, medical complications and seizures. Spastic quadriplegia is associated with a birth complication called acute intrapartum hypoxia (a loss of oxygen in close proximity to labor and delivery). If your child has spastic quadriplegia it could be the result of a medical mistake. You may wish to consult with birth injury attorneys to learn more.

Dyskinetic Cerebral Palsy. Children with dyskinetic cerebral palsy have slow, uncontrolled body movements and hypotonia, which can affect all areas of the body. The movements may increase during periods of stress and disappear during sleep. These children may have difficulty sitting, walking, eating, speaking or performing other purposeful actions. Dyskinetic cerebral palsy accounts for about 10 to 20 percent of all cerebral palsy cases.3

There are several types of dyskinetic cerebral palsy:

  • Choreoathetoid cerebral palsy involves abrupt, jerky movements in the head, arms and/or legs.
  • Athetoid cerebral palsy is marked by slow, writhing movements in the hands, feet, arms and possibly the face, sometimes resulting in grimacing and drooling.
  • Dystonic cerebral palsy is characterized by twisting or slow, rhythmic movements and postures in the face and upper extremities.

Dyskinetic cerebral palsy is also associated with acute intrapartum hypoxia, though the latter is more commonly associated with spastic quadriplegia.

Ataxic Cerebral Palsy. This is the least common form of cerebral palsy. It accounts for only 5 to 10 percent of all cases.4 Ataxic cerebral palsy is characterized by poor coordination, balance and depth perception. Children with ataxic cerebral palsy often walk unsteadily with a wide-based gait and spread their feet abnormally far apart. Some children exhibit an intention tremor — a tremor that worsens when attempting an act such as reaching for an object.

Mixed Cerebral Palsy. As the name implies, mixed cerebral palsy is not characterized by one predominant muscle tone, but rather a combination of spastic and dyskinetic movements.

If your doctor has confirmed a diagnosis of cerebral palsy due to a birth injury, you and your family may be entitled to compensation. Contact a birth injury lawyer to learn more.

1United Cerebral Palsy
3United Cerebral Palsy
4United Cerebral Palsy