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 the balance center of the brain, the cerebellum, becoming damaged. The cerebellum is responsible for fine tuning movement commands for the body, yet when it becomes damaged, it 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 at a large distance apart due to affected balance and depth perception. Other symptoms include:
- Unsteady movements
- 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 brain damage or abnormal brain development. Brain problems can develop from a variety of reasons, including:
- Maternal infections and exposure to toxins
- Lesions in the brain’s white matter, known as periventricular leukomalacia
- Infant brain bleeding while still in utero, caused by fetal stroke
- Maternal high blood pressure, which places the baby at a greater chance of stroke
- Oxygen deprivation, which can sometimes take place before or during a difficult childbirth in which the baby isn’t pulled out in time.
- Medical mistakes, such as not scheduling and carrying out an emergency C-section, resulting in oxygen loss.
- Uterine ruptures, which can lead to oxygen deprivation
- Placental or umbilical cord damage
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 display awkward movements, slow eye movement when following objects, and/or difficulties 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 a series of tests. It’s important to make sure your baby gets regular medical checkups, especially during the infancy and toddler stage, as physicians can start treatment early on developmental issues.
Muscle and Feeding Problems With Ataxic Cerebral Palsy
In many cases, there is the possibility that a child with ataxic cerebral palsy will not get enough muscle use, which can lead to rigid muscles and atrophy. Malnutrition can also be an issue with children who have ataxic cerebral due to chewing and swallowing issues, therefore the following treatment plans are crucial.
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 not only develop better reflexes, but also learn better balance and walking techniques, and stop muscles from shrinking and becoming rigid.
Conducive therapy is also highly recommended for children with ataxic cerebral palsy. Conducive therapy, sometimes referred to as conducive education, helps children improve both fine and motor skills through various exercises. A few examples of exercises include age-appropriate songs and games that make the therapy interesting and fun for children.
Certain kinds of medication may also 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 chances he/she will have 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. Again, make certain to get your baby regular medical checkups, especially from birth until around three years of age, when the symptoms of ataxic cerebral begin to develop the most.