Cerebral palsy

Symptoms of cerebral palsy

Initial symptoms

The symptoms of cerebral palsy normally become apparent during the first three years of your child's life.

They may be slower in achieving important developmental goals, such as learning to crawl, walk or speak. Children with cerebral palsy also tend to have problems with their muscle tone (the unconscious ability to contract or relax muscles as needed). Your child may have:

  • hypertonia: increased muscle tone, which can make them appear stiff or rigid
  • hypotonia: decreased muscle tone, which makes them appear floppy

In some cases, your child may experience an early period of hypotonia for the first two or three months of their life, before progressing to hypertonia.

Children with cerebral palsy also tend to favour one side of the body over the other, which can make their posture appear unusual.

Symptoms of spastic hemiplegia

If your child has spastic hemiplegia, they will have muscle stiffness (spasticity) on one side of their body. This is normally limited to the hand and arm, but sometimes also affects their leg.

Spastic hemiplegia may also cause your child to develop an abnormal curvature of the spine (scoliosis). They may have problems speaking, but their intelligence should not be affected by the condition.

Some children with spastic hemiplegia also experience epileptic seizures.

Symptoms of spastic diplegia

In this type of cerebral palsy, your child will experience muscle stiffness in their legs. This may cause difficulty walking, and they may need aids such as leg braces or a walking frame.

Communication skills and intelligence should be unaffected.

Symptoms of ataxic cerebral palsy

In ataxic cerebral palsy, your child's balance and depth perception will be affected. Depth perception is the ability to judge where objects are in relation to your position.

Your child may appear clumsy and uncoordinated and have problems with activities that require precise movement, such as writing or tying a shoelace. They may also experience tremors in their hands (involuntary shaking), especially when they are trying to reach for an object.

Your child's communication skills and intelligence should be unaffected.

Symptoms of athetoid or dyskinetic cerebral palsy

If your child has athetoid cerebral palsy (also known as dyskinetic cerebral palsy), they will experience both increased and decreased muscle tone. This means they often make apparently random and uncontrolled body movements. They will probably have problems maintaining their posture.

Their speech will be affected as they have difficulty controlling their tongue and vocal cords. Your child may also have problems with eating and drooling.

Intelligence is not normally affected in children with athetoid cerebral palsy.

Symptoms of spastic quadriplegia

Spastic quadriplegia is the most severe type of cerebral palsy, caused by extensive damage to the brain. Your child will have a high degree of stiffness in all their limbs, and may be unable to walk. At the same time, their neck muscles will be very loose and they may have problems supporting their head.

They will find speaking difficult, and may have moderate to severe learning difficulties.

Frequent epileptic seizures are common in children living with spastic quadriplegia.

Last updated: 04 April 2012

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