5 Early Warning Signs Of Cerebral Palsy In Young Children

Cerebral Palsy

Table of Contents

What Is Cerebral Palsy

Cerebral palsy, abbreviated to CP, is a group of disorders that affect a person’s ability to move and maintain balance and posture. CP is the most common motor disability in childhood. 

Cerebral means having to do with the brain. 

Palsy means weakness or problems with using the muscles. 

CP is caused by abnormal brain development during or post birth, or by an acquired damage to the developing brain that affects a person’s ability to control their muscles.

The symptoms of CP vary from person to person. A person with severe CP might need to use special equipment to be able to walk, or they might be wheelchair-bound, requiring lifelong care. 

On the other hand, a person with mild CP might walk a little awkwardly but not need any special help or equipment assistance. 

CP does not get worse over time, but the symptoms experienced and displayed can change over a person’s lifetime.

Mild CP does not stop a person from achieving success in life. Check out the amazing British comedian Rosie Jones for a glimpse of what is possible!

All people with CP have problems with movement, posture, and speech. Many also have related conditions such as intellectual disability, seizures; problems with vision, hearing, or slurred speech; changes in the spine called scoliosis; or joint problems called contractures.

What Four Types Of Cerebral Palsy Exist

Doctors classify CP according to the main type of movement disorder involved. Depending on which areas of the brain are affected, one or more of the following movement disorders can occur:

  • Stiff muscles (spasticity)
  • Uncontrollable movements (dyskinesia)
  • Poor balance and coordination (ataxia)

There Are Four Main Types Of CP

Spastic Cerebral Palsy: affects about eighty per cent of people with the condition. People with spastic CP have increased muscle tone. This means their muscles are stiff, and, as a result, their movements can be described as jerky or awkward.

 Spastic CP is further broken down and categorised by what body parts are affected.

Spastic diplegia/diparesis: In this type of CP, muscle stiffness is mainly in the legs, with the arms less affected or unaffected. People with spastic diplegia might have difficulty walking because tight hip and leg muscles cause their legs to pull together, turn inward, and cross at the knees, called scissoring.

Spastic hemiplegia/hemiparesis: This type affects only one side of a person’s body; usually, the arm is more affected than the leg.

Spastic quadriplegia/quadriparesis: Spastic quadriplegia is the most severe form of spastic CP and affects all four limbs, the trunk, and the face. People with spastic quadriparesis usually cannot walk and often have other developmental disabilities such as intellectual disability; seizures; or problems with vision, hearing, or speech.

Dyskinetic Cerebral Palsy: also includes athetoid, choreoathetoid, and dystonic cerebral palsies. People with dyskinetic CP have problems controlling the movement of their hands, arms, feet, and legs, making it difficult to sit and walk. The uncontrollable movements can be slow and writhing or rapid and jerky. Sometimes the face and tongue are affected, and the person has difficulty sucking, swallowing, and talking. A person with dyskinetic CP has a muscle tone that is contrary and can vary from too tight to too loose, not only from day to day but hour to hour.

Ataxic Cerebral Palsy: People with ataxic CP have problems with balance and coordination. They might be unsteady when they walk. They might have a hard time with quick movements or movements that need a lot of control, like writing. They might have difficulty controlling their hands or arms when they reach for something.

Mixed Cerebral Palsy: Some people have symptoms of more than one type of CP. The most common type of mixed CP is spastic-dyskinetic CP.

What Are The Early Warning Signs Of CP

The signs of CP vary greatly because there are many different types and levels of disability. The main sign that a child might have CP is a delay in reaching motor or movement milestones like rolling over, sitting, standing, crawling or walking. 

It is important to note that some children without CP might display some of the following signs. Environmental and parenting factors can delay an infant or toddler’s natural development speed.

Following are some warning signs of possible Cerebral palsy:

In A Baby Younger Than 6 Months Of Age

The head lags when you pick them up while they are lying on their back

They feel stiff

They feel floppy

When held cradled in your arms, they seem to overextend their back and neck, constantly acting as if they are pushing away from you.

When you pick them up, their legs get stiff, and they cross or scissor.

In A Baby Older Than 6 Months Of Age

They don’t roll over in either direction

They cannot bring their hands together

They have difficulty bringing their hands to their mouth

They reach out with only one hand while keeping the other fisted

In A Baby Older Than 10 Months Of Age

They crawl in a lopsided manner, pushing off with one hand and leg while dragging the opposite hand and leg.

They scoot around on their buttocks or hop on their knees but do not crawl on all fours.

Tell your child’s doctor or nurse if you notice any of these signs. Learn more about developmental milestones children should reach from birth to 5 years of age.


What Is The Main Cause Of Cerebral Palsy

Cerebral palsy is usually caused by a problem that affects the development of a baby’s brain while it is growing in the womb. This includes damage to part of the brain called white matter, possibly because of a reduced blood or oxygen supply – this is known as periventricular leukomalacia (PVL)


Screening And Diagnosis

Diagnosing CP at an early age is important to the well-being of children and their families and can take several steps:

Developmental Monitoring

Developmental monitoring or surveillance means tracking a child’s growth and development over time. If any concerns about the child’s development are raised during monitoring, then a developmental screening test should be given as soon as possible.

Developmental Screening

During the developmental screening, a short test is given to see if the child has specific developmental delays, such as motor or movement delays. If the results of the screening test are cause for concern, then the doctor will make referrals for developmental and medical evaluations.

Developmental And Medical Evaluations

A developmental evaluation aims to diagnose the specific type of disorder that affects a child.

Treatments And Intervention Services

There is no cure for CP, but treatment can improve the lives of those with the condition. It is important to begin a treatment program as early as possible.

After a CP diagnosis, a team of health professionals works with the child and family to develop a plan to help the child reach their full potential. Common treatments include medicines, surgery, braces, and physical, occupational, and speech therapy. No single treatment is the best one for all children with CP. Before deciding on a treatment plan, it is important to talk with the child’s specialist to understand all the risks and benefits.

Visit the NINDS Cerebral Palsy Information Page to learn more about treatments for CP.

Causes And Risk Factors Of CP

CP is caused by abnormal development of the brain or damage to the developing brain that affects a child’s ability to control their muscles. There are several possible causes of abnormal development or damage. People used to think that a lack of oxygen mainly caused CP during the birth process. Now, scientists think that this causes only a small number of CP cases.

The abnormal development of the brain or damage that leads to CP can happen before birth, during birth, within a month after birth, or during the first years of a child’s life while the brain is still developing. 

CP related to abnormal brain development or damage that occurred before or during birth is called congenital CP. The majority of CP (85%–90%) is congenital. In many cases, the specific cause is not known.

A small percentage of CP is caused by abnormal development of the brain or damage that occurs more than 28 days after birth. This is called acquired CP and usually is associated with an infection such as meningitis or sustaining a head injury, possibly the unconfirmed result of shaking the infant hard enough to cause a concussion resulting in an acquired brain injury in the first-month post birth.

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