Dr Ben Ko
Cerebral Palsy - what you need to know
Updated: Nov 7, 2019
Cerebral palsy is the name for a group of lifelong conditions that affect movement and co-ordination, caused by a problem with the brain that occurs before, during or soon after birth.
What does cerebral palsy look like?
Many children with cerebral palsy will seem perfectly normal in their early infancy. Unless it is a case of very severe cerebral palsy, most children do not present until they are 5 to 6 months of age.
The early signs include:
Not achieving their motor milestones as expected e.g. not keeping their head upright by 3 months of age, not rolling by 6 month, not sitting by 8-9 months or not walking by 18 months
Developing preference in using one side of the body too early e.g. preferring to use left or right hand over the other side before 9 months of age
Unusual pattern of movements, for example, unusual way of crawling, with the upper body dragging the lower half on the floor
Abnormal, involuntary movements, such as jerky movements, or throwing arms or head backwards in an uncontrolled manner (posturing)
What shall I do if I am worried?
Symptoms like those of cerebral palsy can have a number of different causes and aren't necessarily a sign of anything serious. If you are worried, speak to your Health Visitor, or your GP. Your health visitor is a specialist in young children and will have vast knowledge and experience in child development.
Once your health visitor or your GP has seen your child, they can advise if further referral to a specialist for assessment is indicated. Your child may be referred to a Physiotherapist, a Consultant Paediatrician in the hospital or in the community, or to a Paediatric Neurologist.
How long does it take for cerebral palsy to be diagnosed or ruled out?
Once a specialist has seen your child, they should have a fair idea after the initial consultation. However, it is unlikely that the diagnosis can be confirmed without further tests. Very often, a brain scan (MRI Brain Scan) will be organised and that can take several weeks. In most cases, the diagnosis can be confirmed or ruled out after a couple of appointments. In some cases, if more specialised tests are required when the brain scan is not conclusive, it may take longer.
If my child is diagnosed as having cerebral palsy, what can be done?
There are a wide range of treatments available to help children with the condition to reduce the impairments and to promote development and functioning.
Physiotherapy – techniques such as exercise and stretching to help maintain physical ability and hopefully improve movement problems
Speech therapy to help with speech and communication, and swallowing difficulties
Occupational therapy – where a therapist identifies problems that you or your child have carrying out everyday tasks, and suggests ways to make these easier
Medication for muscle stiffness and other difficulties. These include oral medicine and injections e.g. Botox injections
In some cases, surgery to treat movement or growth problems
Would my child need to go to a special school?
Most children with cerebral palsy attend mainstream schools. There is a network of support offered by the statutory services, including health, education and social care, that aim to help affected children in the community. With the support of an Education, Health and Care Plan, classroom assistants and therapists can be engaged to provide the necessary support in a mainstream setting.
Some children with cerebral palsy may also have other medical complications, such as epilepsy, severe feeding problems, breathing problems, and their needs are better served in a special school setting.
What is the outlook for children with cerebral palsy?
In general, people with CP will have the same life expectancy as anyone else. Cerebral Palsy itself is not progressive; the injury to the brain does not change.
Many young people with cerebral palsy do well educationally, and attend further and higher education.
Further information and support
Scope is the main UK Charity for people and families affected by cerebral palsy