Cerebral Palsy Symptoms

Cerebral palsy symptoms in babies often show up as developmental delays, involuntary movements, and abnormal muscle tone. Cerebral palsy may be caused by an injury during birth — and parents may be able to pursue compensation for their child’s medical care by filing a cerebral palsy lawsuit.

If your child is showing symptoms of cerebral palsy, Sokolove Law may be able to help. Our nurse case managers can listen to your story to help determine what happened, and what you can do next.

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Signs of Cerebral Palsy in Babies

Cerebral palsy (CP) is a group of neurological disorders that affect the brain and nervous system. Because the condition varies in type and severity, cerebral palsy can cause a wide range of symptoms that impair functions like:

  • Balance
  • Coordination
  • Hearing
  • Movement
  • Reflexes
  • Vision
  • And more

The early signs of cerebral palsy in babies can vary depending on how old they are. No matter how old your child is, it’s important to keep an eye out for developmental delays, as well as any movements or postures that seem out of the ordinary. These signs could indicate that your baby has suffered brain damage and may have developed CP.

The earlier parents notice the signs and detect the cause, the better their chances of preventing complete loss of function in their child. Here, we’ll look at how to detect cerebral palsy, how the symptoms develop, and what to do next.

Signs of Cerebral Palsy in Newborns

Very rarely is it obvious that a child is born with CP. More typically, it’s not until a baby misses developmental milestones — the first at 2 months of age — that parents and doctors might notice something is amiss.

Signs of CP in newborns include:

  • Feeding or swallowing difficulties
  • Muscle spasms
  • Poor control of reflexes
  • Preference in using one side of the body
  • Stiff or floppy muscle tone
  • Unusual movement, balance, or posture overall

Signs of Cerebral Palsy in Infants

Infants with cerebral palsy may exhibit developmental delays — such as not being able to roll over when they’re 6 months old, or not being able to crawl by the time they’re 1 year old.

Some other symptoms of cerebral palsy in infants may include:

  • Inability to bring hands to mouth
  • Inability to hold up their head
  • Inability to say simple words like “mama” or “dada”
  • Inability to sit up
  • Inability to reach out with both hands (one hand may be balled into a fist)
  • Inability to roll over
  • Lack of simple gestures like shaking head, pointing, or waving
  • Legs stiffening or crossing when they’re picked up
  • Overextending their back or neck and pulling away when held

If your child is 10 or more months old, and they still can’t stand up even with support, this could also indicate CP.

These signs are particularly worrisome if the child’s birth was difficult or mishandled by doctors, as brain damage during birth is one of the risk factors associated with cerebral palsy.

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Signs of Cerebral Palsy in Toddlers

Cerebral palsy is often not diagnosed until a child reaches toddlerhood or starts school. Intellectual, social, and cognitive impairments may become more apparent in comparison to their peers.

In children 1-4 years old, the following symptoms may suggest cerebral palsy:

  • Awkward or unorthodox movements or postures, particularly those that favor one side
  • Failure to meet developmental milestones
  • Ignoring other children
  • Inability to draw or scribble
  • Inability to follow three-part commands
  • Lack of interest in games or make-believe
  • Muscle stiffness or spasticity
  • Poor balance or coordination
  • Poor muscle control
  • Slow reflexes
  • Speech issues

Spastic Cerebral Palsy Symptoms

Spastic cerebral palsy is characterized by muscle stiffness and spasming, often in the arms and legs.

Spastic cerebral palsy symptoms may include:

  • Balance and coordination problems
  • Difficulty grasping objects
  • Difficulty walking
  • Fatigue
  • Motor dysfunction
  • Muscle stiffness or weakness, sometimes on just one side of the body
  • Seizures
  • Speech issues

Spastic cerebral palsy is the most common type of CP and accounts for 77% of all cases.

Dyskinetic (Athetoid) Cerebral Palsy Symptoms

Dyskinetic cerebral palsy, also known as athetoid cerebral palsy, is characterized by abnormal muscle tone and an inability to control movements.

Dyskinetic or athetoid cerebral palsy symptoms may include:

  • Abrupt, jerky movements
  • Awkward postures
  • Difficulty speaking
  • Drooling
  • Muscle tone that is either too stiff or too loose
  • Slow, irregular movements
  • Twisting, repetitive movements

Ataxic Cerebral Palsy Symptoms

Ataxic cerebral palsy is characterized by severe issues with coordination and balance.

Ataxic cerebral palsy symptoms may include:

  • Difficulty walking
  • Jerky movements
  • Lack of depth perception
  • Poor motor control
  • Slow eye movements
  • Tremors
  • Trouble grasping things or picking them up
  • Unsteadiness

An injury to the cerebellum — the part of the brain that controls balance — is the main cause of ataxic CP.

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Mixed Cerebral Palsy Symptoms

Mixed cerebral palsy is a combination of more than one type of CP. The most common combination in mixed cerebral palsy patients is dyskinetic/athetoid and spastic.

Mixed cerebral palsy symptoms may include:

  • Awkward postures
  • Balance and coordination problems
  • Difficulty speaking
  • Difficulty walking
  • Drooling
  • Fatigue
  • Jerky or involuntary movements
  • Motor dysfunction
  • Muscle stiffness
  • Seizures

How Do Doctors Test for Cerebral Palsy?

From your baby’s first scheduled visit, your doctor will check for those milestones and measure subtle changes over time. Though many symptoms of cerebral palsy don’t manifest until a child is older, there are tests that neonatal doctors use to diagnose CP in newborn babies. One such diagnostic test is known as the Apgar test.

The Apgar test assesses the child’s:

  • Breathing
  • Heart rate
  • Muscle tone
  • Reflexes
  • Skin appearance

Doctors administer the Apgar test one, five, and 10 minutes after birth. A low Apgar score, especially at the five- or 10-minute mark, may indicate brain damage and the development of a neurological disorder such as cerebral palsy.

If a doctor suspects CP, they’ll likely refer you to a neurologist or specialist trained in child development, who may perform:

  • Blood tests to rule out other conditions that mimic CP
  • A CT scan (X-ray of the brain) in rarer cases of emergency
  • An MRI for hard-to-detect damage to the brain (preferred for producing higher-quality images and less radiation than CT scans)
  • An ultrasound (only in very young babies and not as helpful for hard-to-detect damage)
  • An EEG (electroencephalogram), which measures brain waves to help detect epilepsy

When will you get an official diagnosis? In most cases, by the time your child is 2 years old. But the time frame varies.

Even if test results show injuries, it may be too early to assess the impact. Babies with severe symptoms might be diagnosed soon after birth, while milder symptoms might not be linked to CP until years later. It’s frustrating for parents, but the diagnostic process isn’t an easy one — especially after questionable causes.

What to Do If Your Child Has Cerebral Palsy

If your child has exhibited the signs and symptoms of cerebral palsy, contact your pediatrician. Once diagnosed, your doctor can determine the best treatment plan to manage your child’s symptoms.

Medical malpractice — namely, medical errors committed before, during, or shortly after birth — can result in brain damage resulting in cerebral palsy. If your child is showing signs of cerebral palsy, medical negligence may be to blame.

A cerebral palsy law firm may be able to help you secure the compensation you need to cover the cost of treatment, medication, and other expenses. Contact us for a free, no-obligation consultation to learn more.

Get Help From a Cerebral Palsy Law Firm

Cerebral palsy is often the result of medical malpractice or negligence during delivery, and many parents pursue cerebral palsy lawsuits to help protect their children’s future. CP often results in a lifetime of health concerns and extra care expenses, which can total as much as $1 million, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

We have registered nurses on staff, together with our cerebral palsy attorneys, who are committed to helping you recover the compensation you need to pay for your child’s treatment.

Over the last 40+ years, Sokolove Law has helped secure over $710 Million on behalf of families affected by birth injuries like cerebral palsy.

To explore your options, call us today at [phone number] or start your free case review now.

Cerebral Palsy Symptoms FAQs

What are the signs and symptoms of cerebral palsy?

The symptoms of cerebral palsy can vary depending on the severity and type of CP.

Some common signs and symptoms of CP include:

  • Abnormal muscle tone
  • Balance and coordination problems
  • Difficulty grasping objects
  • Difficulty walking
  • Muscle stiffness or weakness
  • Poor muscle control
  • Seizures
  • Tremors
  • Trouble speaking

How do you know if a baby has cerebral palsy?

Signs of cerebral palsy in babies may include the following:

  • Developmental delays (slow to roll over, crawl, walk, etc.)
  • Inability to bring hands to mouth
  • Inability to hold up their head
  • Inability to reach out with both hands
  • Legs stiffening or crossing when they’re picked up
  • Overextending their back or neck when held

If you suspect your child may have cerebral palsy, consult a doctor. You may also want to contact a cerebral palsy attorney to pursue compensation for medical costs.

How do babies get cerebral palsy?

Cerebral palsy is often the result of an injury to the child’s brain during birth, which can occur because of medical negligence on the part of a doctor or nurse. The parents of children with CP may be able to recover compensation by filing a birth injury lawsuit.

Do babies with cerebral palsy kick their legs?

Babies with cerebral palsy may have stiff leg muscles, and their legs may bend inward at the knee, making a scissor shape. The legs may also stiffen or cross when the baby is picked up — or the legs could have poor muscle tone and be extremely floppy.

Do babies with cerebral palsy sleep a lot?

Cerebral palsy is often characterized by muscle spasms, awkward body positioning, pain, discomfort, and seizures, all of which can be sleep-disruptive. As a result, a baby with CP may have trouble falling or staying asleep. That said, trouble sleeping is a common problem among all babies, not just those with cerebral palsy.

Author:Sokolove Law Team
Sokolove Law Team

Contributing Authors

The Sokolove Law Content Team is made up of writers, editors, and journalists. We work with case managers and attorneys to keep site information up to date and accurate. Our site has a wealth of resources available for victims of wrongdoing and their families.

Last modified: September 28, 2021

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