A Comprehensive Cerebral Palsy Resource

Cerebral Palsy Symptoms

What are the Symptoms of Cerebral Palsy?

Have you noticed movements or actions in your child that seem a little bit “off?” Do you suspect something is different when you compare your child to most others his or her age? Have friends or family noticed anything unusual?

Just because your child looks, talks, or acts a little differently than most others his or her age doesn’t mean anything is “wrong.” Children all develop in similar, but at the same time different, ways.

If you think gestures, words, or postures your child takes may be the symptoms of cerebral palsy, take some time and read through this list of symptoms so you can better understand what the symptoms of cerebral palsy look like.

Depending on the type of cerebral palsy present, symptoms will vary. The various symptoms can be found below, broken out by cerebral palsy type:

Spastic Cerebral Palsy

This type of CP is by far the most common. Spastic cerebral palsy accounts for nearly 80% of all cerebral palsy cases. The term “spastic” refers to muscles being unusually tense.

People affected by spastic cerebral palsy may experience one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Joint contracture – Joints which are very tight and do not open all the way as they should.
  • Paralysis – The loss of muscle strength to the point where the muscles barely move or stop moving entirely.
  • Abnormal gait – The affected person walks in an unusual fashion. He or she may walk with knees that touch or cross, arms tucked in very tightly toward his or her sides, or legs that walk in a scissors-like motion. He or she may also walk on his or her toes.
  • Rigid movement – Much like a jackknife that closes suddenly when forced, a person with spastic CP moves in a rigid fashion, but may be able to suddenly overcome it with force.
  • Nearsightedness – Due to weak muscles in and around the eyes, people affected by spastic cerebral palsy may suffer from nearsightedness or crossed eyes.

These symptoms may affect one limb or multiple limbs. They can also affect an entire region of the body.

Ataxic Cerebral Palsy

Ataxic CP results from damage to the cerebellum and accounts for around 10% of all CP cases.

The cerebellum is the region of the brain responsible for controlling balance and coordination.
Therefore, most symptoms revolving around ataxic CP involve movement.

If you believe your child has ataxic cerebral palsy, see if he or she struggles with the following symptoms:

  • A wide gait – Because of their difficulty with their sense of balance, people with ataxia CP walk with their feet unusually far apart.
  • Appearing unsteady – Because of their low muscle tone, people with ataxia are constantly struggling to maintain a steady posture and appear to have a difficult time standing or walking with perfect posture.
  • Tremors – Tremors are the defining symptom of ataxic cerebral palsy. When at rest, an ataxic person’s hands may experience slight tremors. However, once he or she reaches for an object, the tremors increase significantly.
  • Visual disturbances – A person affected by ataxia may experience blurred or double vision. He or she may have difficult shifting his or her attention from one object to another.
  • Speech and swallowing challenges – Ataxia may also result in slowed or slurred speech, and a person may also struggle with swallowing.
  • Unusually high fatigue – Ataxic adults often report they need to concentrate more intensely in order to coordinate their movements. As a result, many ataxic individuals experience higher than average levels of fatigue.
  • Cognitive and emotional challenges – Although not fully understood at this point, the cerebellum has to do with proper cognitive and mood functioning. Ataxic individuals may struggle with planning, recalling recent information, and the proper order of information. He or she may also struggle with higher levels of anxiety, irritability, and depression.

Athetoid Cerebral Palsy

Athetosis is the clinical term describing slow and uncontrolled movements of the limbs and extremities.

Athetoid cerebral palsy, also called dyskenesia, affects about 10% of all people with cerebral palsy. Additional symptoms of athetoid cerebral palsy include:

  • Uncontrolled facial, limb, and extremity movements – During times of emotional distress, these symptoms can intensify, but they may also completely disappear during sleep.
  • Low muscle tone – Your child may experience difficulty maintaining posture when sitting or walking.
  • Facial movements – Involuntary movements cause persons with athetoid cerebral palsy to experience difficulty when speaking or eating.
  • Loss of control of tongue and mouth – An individual may experience involuntary grimacing, drooling, and slurred speech. He or she may also experience difficulty swallowing.

Mixed Cerebral Palsy

Persons with mixed cerebral palsy experience symptoms from one or more types of CP – potentially all three. The most common types involve both spastic and athetoid symptoms and usually affecting two limbs. The least common form of mixed cerebral palsy is a mix of athetosis and ataxia.

What are Some Additional Signs Your Child May Have Cerebral Palsy?

The earlier CP is detected, the better the long-term outcome will be for that individual. Besides the symptoms specific to each condition are above, here are some additional symptoms:

  • Your child has difficulty performing age – appropriate fine motor tasks (task requiring coordination of the fingers) such as writing, cutting with scissors, and buttoning shirts.
  • Your baby seems slow to smile, sit, crawl, or walk.
  • Your toddler develops a hand preference much earlier than usual
  • Your baby seems unusually rigid or stiff, or unusually relaxed, loose, or even floppy.
  • Your infant retains usage of the Moro reflex beyond the age of 6 months. The Moro reflex happens when you hold your baby on its back and tilt its legs above its head. The baby moves its arms as though it is ready for a hug.
  • Your baby has difficulty maintaining correct posture.
  • Your infant has movements appearing to be involuntary. In particular, he or she has as unusual hand motions and doesn’t seem able to control his or her drooling.

Ultimately, a doctor makes the final determination whether or not your child has cerebral palsy. But, if you have identified one or more of these symptoms in your child, you at least have a direction in which to head.