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Ataxic cerebral palsy is one of three main types of cerebral palsy and is also the rarest. It causes poor coordination and balance and also affects depth perception. Treatments for ataxic cerebral palsy include therapy and medication.
What Is Ataxic Cerebral Palsy?
Ataxic cerebral palsy is a rare type of cerebral palsy affecting around 5% to 10% of all people diagnosed. The name comes from the word ataxia, which means a lack of coordination and without order.
Which Part of the Brain is Affected By Cerebral Palsy?
Different types of cerebral palsy impact different areas of the brain. This is why each type causes unique symptoms.
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.
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Symptoms of Ataxic Cerebral Palsy
One of the most distinct symptoms of ataxic cerebral palsy is walking with feet wide apart due to impaired 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
Can a Child with Ataxic Cerebral Palsy Walk?
Yes, most kids with this type of cerebral palsy walk independently. They often walk with their legs farther apart to maintain balance. Their movements when walking might look jerky and unsteady. Some children benefit from assistive devices, like a walker, to avoid falling.
Does Ataxic Cerebral Palsy Affect Intelligence?
Some children with cerebral palsy have intellectual disabilities. This is more common in spastic cerebral palsy. Children with ataxic cerebral palsy are much less likely to have an intellectual impairment.
What Causes Ataxic Cerebral Palsy?
Like other types of cerebral palsy, ataxic cerebral palsy is generally caused by damage to the brain during fetal development or during or just after labor and delivery.
Brain damage can result from one of many causes, including:
- Maternal infections and exposure to toxins
- Bleeding or blood clot in the brain while still in utero, called a 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
Is My Child at Risk for Ataxic Cerebral Palsy?
It is often impossible for a doctor to know exactly what caused cerebral palsy, but multiple contributing factors put babies at risk:
- A pre-term birth or low birth weight
- Difficult and complicated labor and delivery
- Infections and other health conditions in the mother
- Jaundice in the newborn
- Multiple gestations
- Exposure to toxic chemicals
You can’t foresee all risk factors that might complicate your pregnancy. But you can be proactive by staying healthy and making all your prenatal appointments. Advocate for your health with medical professionals and speak up if you think something feels wrong.
How Is Ataxic Cerebral Palsy Diagnosed?
In most cases, ataxic cerebral palsy isn’t diagnosed until the child shows developmental delays.
When children start to display awkward movements, difficulty following objects with the eyes, or problems grasping things, parents generally seek medical advice that provides the diagnosis.
Therefore, ataxic cerebral palsy isn’t usually diagnosed until around 3 to 18 months, after doctors perform an examination and often a series of tests.
It’s important to ensure your baby gets regular medical checkups, especially during the infancy and toddler stages, so that 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 medications may be prescribed to children with ataxic cerebral palsy, which can help them control tremors.
Doctors often prescribe Primidone, an anticonvulsant drug. What, if any medication is needed, will be determined by each child’s individualized treatment plan, set up by their physician.
A child with ataxic cerebral palsy can also benefit from occupational therapy to hone the skills needed for daily activities. Doctors often recommend speech therapy, as most kids with this type of cerebral palsy have difficulties with speech and swallowing.
Does Ataxic Cerebral Palsy Get Worse Over Time?
Like other types of cerebral palsy, the ataxic type does not progress or get worse with time. If left untreated, some of the associated conditions or complications can worsen. With adequate treatment and support, most kids with this type of cerebral palsy live ordinary lives, no different from their peers.
What Is the Ataxic Cerebral Palsy Life Expectancy?
Ataxic cerebral palsy is usually less severe than other types. Most children diagnosed with this form will have an average life expectancy.
The sooner your child starts a treatment plan, the better the chance for a positive outcome. This condition is not progressive, but there is an early window in which treatments are most effective.
Without early intervention and treatment, a child with ataxic cerebral palsy runs the risk of falling behind in both physical and emotional growth. Get regular medical checkups for your baby, especially from birth until three years of age.
If you suspect that a doctor’s mistakes caused your child’s ataxic cerebral palsy diagnosis, contact a birth injury law firm. They can review your case and help you seek justice and recover damages for medical malpractice.
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Retrieved from: https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/Patient-Caregiver-Education/Hope-Through-Research/Cerebral-Palsy-Hope-Through-Research
- National Institutes of Health (n.d.). What are the types of cerebral palsy?
Retrieved from: https://www.nichd.nih.gov/health/topics/cerebral-palsy/conditioninfo/types
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2019, September 11). What is Cerebral Palsy?
Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/cp/facts.html
- Nemours KidsHealth (n.d.). Ataxic Cerebral Palsy.
Retrieved from: https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/ataxic-cp.html
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Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1389327
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Retrieved from: https://rarediseases.info.nih.gov/diseases/10451/cerebral-palsy-ataxic
- National Ataxia Foundation. (2019, May 10). What is Ataxia?
Retrieved from: https://ataxia.org/what-is-ataxia/