Cerebral palsy is a neurological disorder with several different forms. In turn, while all forms of the disorder have a few of the same symptoms, there are also several different symptoms depending on the type of cerebral palsy the child has.
Spastic Cerebral Palsy Symptoms
Spastic cerebral palsy, a form of hypertonia, the most common form of the disorder, affects more than 70% of all cases of the disorder. It’s caused by damage to the brain’s motor cortex shortly after birth, during birth, or before birth. It can affect any muscle group in the baby’s body.
Symptoms of spastic cerebral palsy may include:
- Failure to milestones in walking, crawling and sitting up
- Abnormal movement
- Movement inhibition
- Stiff muscles
- Muscles tend to become stiffer the more the child moves
- Difficulties with controlling individual muscles
- Difficulties moving from one position to another
- Dyskinetic Cerebral Palsy Symptoms
- Speech problems, such as slurred words
- Slow oral movements, which make it difficult to eat and drink (more effort is needed when compared to someone without cerebral palsy)
Dyskinetic cerebral palsy is a not as common as spastic cerebral palsy, affecting around 2.6% of all cases of the disorder. Symptoms of dyskinetic cerebral palsy include:
- Repetitive, twisting motions (dystonia)
- Slow, writhing movements (athetosis)
- Unpredictable, irregular movements (chorea)
- Awkward posture
- Movements can range from slow to rapid and can be accompanied by pain
Ataxic Cerebral Palsy Symptoms
Ataxic cerebral palsy, affecting around 2.6% of people with the disorder, is similar to dyskinetic cerebral palsy in that babies and children exhibit irregular movements. It’s caused by damage to the cerebellum, the balance center of the brain responsible for movement commands. Ataxic cerebral palsy can affect any part of the baby’s body, including hands, legs, fingers, eye movements, and the muscles involved with swallowing.
Other symptoms may include:
- Tremors and shaky movements
- Unsteady balance
- Poor coordination
- “Scanning speech,” meaning talking in a breathy, monotone voice with long pauses between words or acceleration between words
- Slow eye movements and inability to target what they’re looking at correctly
Hypotonic Cerebral Palsy Symptoms
Hypotonic cerebral palsy, named after hypotonia, meaning “less muscle tone.” It’s caused by severe brain malformations or brain damage, generally during the early stages of brain development while the infant is still in utero.
Hypotonia has distinct symptoms that include:
- No head control
- Floppy muscles
- Poor reflexes
- Over-relaxed joints
- Problems with speech
- Breathing and swallowing difficulties
- Other conditions which may accompany cerebral palsy
Mixed Cerebral Palsy Symptoms
Children with mixed cerebral palsy can have a combination of symptoms, such as having poor reflexes (hypotonic) and scanning speech (ataxic). Symptoms will depend upon what types of combined cerebral palsy the child has. Mixed cerebral palsy generally entails both spastic and non-spastic.
Other Cerebral Palsy Symptoms
Around half of all people with cerebral palsy will have a form of a seizure disorder. It’s important to note that seizures can range from tame to extremely severe. For instance, a partial seizure for some cerebral palsy patients may be mild, with the only signs being muscle twitches and/or passing confusion.
Tonic-clonic seizures, however, are considered severe, marked by the child losing consciousness and experiencing convulsions.
It’s important to note that many children with cerebral palsy are bright, intelligent children who will go on to live productive, quality lives. A common misconception about cerebral palsy is that children are “slow” intellectually, but in most cases, this myth is completely untrue.
However, around 30% to 50% of all children with cerebral palsy have some sort of cognitive dysfunction, which can range from mild to severe. With proper management and treatment, these issues can be dealt with successfully.
The most common forms of cognitive problems that children with cerebral palsy experience include:
- Short attention span
- Comprehension issues
- Learning and memory problems
- Issues with problem-solving skills
- Speech proficiency issues
Delayed Development and Growth
Delays in growth and development are typically one of the first signs that parents notice that indicate their baby may have potential problems. Although these types of delays aren’t always due to cerebral palsy, in many cases, babies and children with developmental delays will be behind their age group when learning to crawl, sit, walk, grab objects, talk, and more.
Babies and children with cerebral palsy also tend to be smaller than their age group and underweight for their age group.
Cerebral palsy generally forms after brain damage. When part of the brain are damaged, abnormal signals are sent to the muscles, resulting in a number of of muscle-related disorders. Not all children will exhibit the same muscle-related symptoms. Some children may have only a few minor muscle-related symptoms, whereas others may have a wide range of muscle-related symptoms.
The most common muscle-related symptoms associated with cerebral palsy include:
- Spastic movements
- Shaky movements
- Poor muscle coordination
- Dragging legs when trying to crawl
- Using one side of the body more than the other
- Difficulties grasping small objects
- Alternating between stiff and loose muscles
- Hearing and Vision Problems
Children with cerebral palsy can be prone to be hearing and vision problems. For vision problems, physicians may notice the one eye is weaker than the other, creating a cross-eyed look in some patients. Known as strabismus, this condition can affect how people judge distances. When children grow older, they may experience double vision.In some instances, especially with children who have spastic hemiparesis, both eyes may have trouble with visual range.
Hearing problems are more typical among people with cerebral palsy when compared to the general population. Hearing issues can range from mild to severe. Severe cases may require the use of hearing aids such as cochlear implants. Children with hearing difficulties may have difficulties with understanding what people say, although they can hear the words. Speech issues may also occur due to hearing problems.
Although drooling is common with infants, babies with cerebral palsy may exhibit excessive drooling, which can continue into childhood. Excessive drooling occurs due to lack of muscle control and involuntary facial grimaces. Medications, and in some instances, biofeedback, can help reduce the amount of drooling.
If you ever have any questions or concerns about your child’s symptoms, regardless of how minor they may seem, be certain to consult with your child’s physician. Some symptoms may be indicative of other medical issues that may accompany cerebral palsy.