There is not one specific test that is performed to determine if your child has cerebral palsy. It usually requires rounds of medical evaluations before a diagnosis can be made. It is true, however, that routine screening increases the chances of catching cerebral palsy early on. This is the ideal scenario, because then you can begin taking advantage of early intervention treatments.
What Is Cerebral Palsy
According to the Centers for Disease Control, cerebral palsy is a group of disorders that impact someone’s ability to maintain balance or move. It is caused by abnormal development in the brain that makes it difficult for someone to control their muscles. Spastic cerebral palsy is the most common, and it affects 80 percent of people with the disorder. Other types of cerebral palsy include dyskinetic, ataxic, or mixed cerebral palsy.
What Causes Cerebral Palsy?
Cerebral palsy can happen before a child is born, during birth, just after birth, or in the first years of a child’s life while the brain is continuing to develop. Birth complications commonly result in cerebral palsy in the newborn child, though the condition may not be diagnosed until later on.
In 85 to 90 percent of all cases, the cause of cerebral palsy is congenital, and the specific cause is not known. Children who have low birth weights, are born premature or are part of a multiple birth, such as twins and triplets have a higher risk of developing cerebral palsy.
Some infertility treatments and infections during pregnancy can also lead to a higher risk of cerebral palsy. A small percentage of children may develop cerebral palsy more than 28 days after birth and are normally related to infections of the brain, injury or blood flow incidents.
Diagnosis of Cerebral Palsy
Because there is not just one test to confirm or rule out cerebral palsy, it can take time for a diagnosis. There are situations when a child has a severe case of the disorder that they will be diagnosed at birth, but most times the diagnosis is confirmed in the first two years of the child’s life.
If the case is very mild, it may not be discovered until the child is between three and five years of age. That is because the brain needs to fully develop before the symptoms are recognized. One common type of cerebral palsy, spastic diplegia, is normally diagnosed around 18 months.
What to Look For
There are some common symptoms to look for that could indicate cerebral palsy in your child. These include:
- Abnormal posture and movement
- Cannot bring hands together after the age of six months
- Inability to focus on and hear people talking to them
- Lagging head if picked up while lying on their back
- Overextension of back when cradled in arms, as if they are pushing away
- Reflexes that are slower than other children their age
- Unable to roll over after six months of age
- Delayed developmental milestones
- Unusual stiffness
Children older than 10 months may crawl in a lopsided manner or scoot on their buttocks rather than crawling on all fours. If you see any of these signs, you should talk to your child’s pediatrician.
How Is Cerebral Palsy Diagnosed?
When a doctor looks for cerebral palsy, they will test reflexes, muscle tone, posture and other factors that develop over months and years. Your child may need to have MRIs, ultrasounds of their head or CT scans to determine if they have cerebral palsy. If you suspect cerebral palsy, you want to get a diagnosis as quickly as possible as early intervention and treatment can be critical.
Treatments for Cerebral Palsy
There is no cure for cerebral palsy, but treatments can improve the lives of someone who has the condition. The earlier treatment begins, the more beneficial it will be. Common treatments include medicine, surgery and braces to improve mobility. Your child may also undergo physical, occupational and/or speech therapy.
Each child is different and cerebral palsy affects each person differently, so your child may need a combination of different therapies in order to improve mobility.