Ataxic Cerebral Palsy in Children
Ataxic (a-tax-ick) cerebral palsy is the rarest “form” of cerebral palsy, affecting only 5 to 10 percent of people suffering from the disorder. The severity of ataxic cerebral palsy is generally determined by the level of brain damage sustained. Although some types of cerebral palsy are recognized soon after birth, ataxic CP tends to become noticeable a little later (often between 6 and 18 months of age).
With ataxic cerebral palsy, the brain has been damaged in an area responsible for coordination. The symptoms that a child initially displays will be a flaccid or “limp” posture or appearance.
The main characteristics of other forms of cerebral palsy generally center on muscular contraction issues. On the other hand, the main characteristic of ataxic cerebral palsy is coordination, which is often expressed in poor balance or posture and an unsteady gait.
What Does “Ataxic” Mean?
Ataxic refers to poor coordination. Different forms of the word ataxia are used to describe several disorders involving coordinated movements.
Sometimes people confuse ataxic cerebral palsy with Friedrich’s Ataxia. However, while the symptoms are similar, ataxic cerebral palsy is not genetically passed from parent to child whereas Friedrich’s Ataxia is genetically linked.
What are the Symptoms of Ataxic Cerebral Palsy?
Ataxic cerebral palsy still deals with muscular control problems, but instead of stiff, tight muscles, a person with ataxic cerebral palsy is usually plagued with low muscle tone (hypotonia). People with this form of CP often have depth perception difficulties, unsteady hands, and an unsteady gait.
People with ataxic cerebral palsy experience a difficulty in keeping their limbs steady, called dysmetria. Reaching for objects can also initiate an “intention tremor.” The tremor usually gets worse as the child’s hand gets closer to the object they are trying to reach. Tremors may also occur when an ataxic cerebral palsy sufferer attempts actions requiring specific muscle control, such as writing or eating. These challenges can be especially trying for affected children because it usually takes them longer than normal to complete even simple tasks.
Brain damage to the cerebellum or spinal cord causing ataxic cerebral palsy results in difficulties maintaining balance. Some wobbling of the trunk (called titubation) occurs as the person continually tries to balance their body. Since balance is impaired, people with ataxic cerebral palsy often walk with an ungainly gait. Many children with ataxic cerebral palsy will attempt to correct their balance by walking with their feet far apart in a staggering, unsteady manner.
Ataxic cerebral palsy affects the entire body rather than just certain limbs or muscle groups. The muscles of the face can be affected as well. The most-common facial symptoms of ataxic CP are jerky speech patterns and abnormal eye movements called nystagmus.
Finding Treatment Options
As with any form of CP, treatment is very important. For ataxic CP patients, physical therapy can improve balance, coordination and help keep muscles strong. Medication may also be a treatment consideration, but is not as commonly used as in other forms of cerebral palsy.
Muscle atrophy can be a concern for people with ataxic cerebral palsy due to difficulty when exercising. Sometimes muscles may even become rigid, leading to bone deformity underneath. Fortunately, the deformities tend to be less prevalent than they are for those affected by spastic forms of CP. In some cases malnutrition even becomes an issue due to feeding difficulties and trouble with coordinating chewing and swallowing.
What Questions Should I ask My Doctor?
Understanding more about cerebral palsy in general is always helpful. Research the signs and symptoms of ataxic cerebral palsy and educate yourself on available treatments and advances in assisted technology. Talk with your doctor about ataxic symptoms displayed and get a clear understanding of treatments and therapies that can help improve motor skills. Ask if the doctor intends to prescribe drugs, and if so, to describe the expected benefits.
Cerebral palsy is a non-progressive condition, meaning that it will not worsen over time, but it can take a toll on a person’s body that will present additional challenges over time.
Health care professionals can assist you in forming a care plan, and can provide you with a realistic view of the long-term outlook for a person with ataxic cerebral palsy.