Ataxic cerebral palsy is a rare form of cerebral palsy, but nonetheless, numerous infants and children are affected by it. If your child was diagnosed with ataxic cerebral palsy, the following information will help you understand the disorder more thoroughly, and in turn, assist in helping to make your child’s life more productive and manageable.
What is Ataxic Cerebral Palsy?
Ataxic cerebral palsy is a rare form of cerebral palsy affecting around 5% to 10% of all people diagnosed. It gets its name from the word ataxia, which means lack of coordination and without order.
Ataxic cerebral palsy is caused by damage to the balance center of the brain, the cerebellum. The cerebellum is responsible for fine-tuning movement commands for the body, and damage to this area results in poor coordination and lack of balance.
Symptoms of Ataxic Cerebral Palsy
One of the most distinct symptoms of ataxic cerebral palsy is walking with feet a wide distance apart due to affected balance and depth perception.
Other symptoms include:
- Unsteady movements due to difficulty with balance
- Tremors (especially when reaching for things)
- Difficulties making quick movements
- Difficulties with precise finger movements
- Breathy sounds and monotone voice when speaking, known as “scanning” speech
- Slow eye movements
- In some cases, hearing and vision problems
Causes of Ataxic Cerebral Palsy
Just like other types of cerebral palsy, ataxic cerebral palsy is generally caused by damage to the brain during development, before, during or after birth. This can be from a variety of causes, including:
- Maternal infections and exposure to toxins
- Bleeding or blood clot in the brain while still in utero, called fetal stroke
- Maternal high blood pressure, which places the baby at a greater chance of stroke
- Oxygen deprivation, which can take place before or during a difficult childbirth
- Uterine ruptures, which can lead to oxygen deprivation
- Placental or umbilical cord damage
- Medical mistakes, which can contribute to any of the above
When Does Ataxic Cerebral Palsy Diagnosis Occur?
In most cases, ataxic cerebral palsy isn’t diagnosed until the child begins to show developmental delays. When children begin to display awkward movements, difficulty following objects with the eyes, and/or problems grasping things, parents generally seek medical advice which provides the diagnosis.
Therefore, ataxic cerebral palsy isn’t usually diagnosed until around 3 to 18 months of age, after doctors perform an examination and often a series of tests. It’s important to make sure your baby gets regular medical checkups, especially during the infancy and toddler stage, so physicians can start treatment as early as possible.
Treatments for Ataxic Cerebral Palsy
Since ataxic cerebral palsy results in muscle problems and incoordination, physical therapy is almost always recommended as part of an overall treatment plan. Physical therapy will help your child cope with abnormal movements, and learn techniques to improve balance and walking.
Certain kinds of medication may be prescribed to children with ataxic cerebral palsy, which can help them control tremors. Primidone, an anticonvulsant medication, is often prescribed, but what, if any medication needed, will be determined by each child’s individualized treatment plan, set up by their physician.
Keep in mind, as mentioned earlier, the sooner your child starts a treatment plan, the better the chance for a positive outcome. Without early intervention and treatment, a child with ataxic cerebral palsy runs the risk of falling behind in both physical and emotional growth. Make certain to get regular medical checkups for your baby, especially from birth until three years of age.