Detecting and Diagnosing Cerebral Palsy
A parent or caregiver is usually the first person to notice an infant’s early symptoms of cerebral palsy. At first, a parent may dismiss or repress the idea that anything is truly wrong. Parents often chalk up their child’s missed development milestones to being a “late bloomer.”
However, if you think your child may be showing symptoms or exhibiting signs of cerebral palsy, you should contact your doctor immediately. There are tests that a doctor can perform in order to determine the existence of cerebral palsy and other development disorders.
In the case of cerebral palsy, the earlier a child is diagnosed and can start treatment, the better.
Early Signs & Symptoms of Cerebral Palsy
Cerebral palsy is difficult to detect at birth. A low Apgar Score at 10-20 minutes after delivery may indicate neurological injuries in a newborn, but this alone is not enough to make a diagnosis. Two early indicators of cerebral palsy in infants would be abnormal muscle tone and/or the tendency to favor one side of the body over the other.
Other early symptoms of cerebral palsy in infants involve poor control over mouth muscles (including swallowing and sucking), the inability to support the head, excessive leg crossing, or other unusual body positions. Excessive vomiting, gagging or other feeding problems may sometimes point to other more advanced issues.
If your infant seems unusually “floppy” or limp, it could be a sign of hypotonia (reduced muscle tone). If your infant seems excessively rigid or unbendable, it could be a sign of hypertonia (increased muscle tone). While typically, an infant is affected with either hypertonia or hypotonia, sometimes an infant will endure an early bout of hypotonia only to progress to hypertonia after a few months.
It is difficult to detect cerebral palsy until children start reaching certain developmental milestones. However, specific kinds of cerebral palsy do have some early indicators. For example, statistics show 70% of cerebral palsy cases are spastic. Early symptoms of spastic cerebral palsy include the drawing in of arms and legs, or difficulty in straightening limbs. Dyskinetic/athetoid cerebral palsy, another type of the disorder, can cause infants to writhe involuntarily in an irregular motion.
What Developmental Milestones Should My Infant Reach, and at What Age?
An infant’s developmental milestones should be closely monitored. While all children develop differently, any deviation from typical development charts should alert a parent to a potential problem. A visit to the doctor will help determine whether a child’s developmental difficulties are a normal variation or an indicator of a developmental disorder.
Cerebral palsy symptoms typically begin to appear within 18 months, as children progress through typical developmental milestones. Infants with cerebral palsy generally show delays in mastering expected motor skills like rolling over, sitting up, smiling or crawling. Infants affected by cerebral palsy are generally slower to master these skills due to their motor impairments.
Expected Physical Milestones
- Reaches for objects – 3-4 months
- Brings hands together – 4 months
- Sits without support – 6-7 months
- Crawls – 9 months
- Feeds self with fingers – 9 months
- Hold bottle without a assistance – 12 months
- Walks unassisted – between 10-15 months
- Walks up and down stairs – 24 months
If your child is failing to reach these milestones, it could be indicative of a neurological condition such as cerebral palsy.
Toe walking may also be an early indicator of cerebral palsy. If you notice that your child is beginning to walk on their toes (not touching the soles of their feet to the floor), speak to your pediatrician about potential solutions such as serial casting.
- Localize a sound to the right or left side and turn head towards it – 1 month
- Smile spontaneously – 1 month
- Imitate speech sounds and babble – between 3 and 6 months
- Individual word comprehension – between 6 to 10 months
- Ability to say Mama and Dada – between 5-10 months.
If your child is delayed in achieving any of these milestones, you should contact a physician for further testing. While these symptoms do not mean your child has cerebral palsy, we always recommend seeking the advice of a physician. The earlier an infant is diagnosed with cerebral palsy, the sooner they can begin therapy.