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Cerebral Palsy Symptoms

Approximately 764,000 people in the U.S., including 500,000 children under the age of 18, have been diagnosed with cerebral palsy. This is a collection of disorders caused by brain damage at a young age (often before a child is even born) that affect a person’s muscle tone, movement, and posture.

Many parents learn that their child has cerebral palsy when the child starts to miss certain developmental milestones. In some cases, though, the symptoms are not particularly obvious, or they might not present themselves until the child is older.

Do you suspect that your child has cerebral palsy? Read on to learn more about the symptoms of this condition and what you ought to be on the lookout for based on your child’s age.

Symptoms vs Signs

When talking about cerebral palsy (and other health conditions, for that matter), it’s important to understand the distinction between symptoms and signs. These two terms are often used interchangeably, but they have different meanings.

Signs are concrete. They’re things that doctors can measure, such as malformations of the brain. Symptoms are subjective, though, and are based on observations (often made by parents) of the way a child moves, feels, or behaves.

Both signs and symptoms play important roles in diagnosing cerebral palsy. An understanding of both gives parents and physicians more to work with when determining the cause of a child’s delays, as well as the severity of their condition.

Cerebral Palsy Symptoms in Children Under 6 Months

The younger a child is when they’re diagnosed with cerebral palsy, the more opportunities there are for early intervention and treatment. Both of these can play a significant role in improving the child’s quality of life and overall development.

Most children receive a diagnosis when they’re two years old or younger. Diagnoses can come before a child is even six months old in some cases.

In a child under six months, the following symptoms can often indicate cerebral palsy:

  • The baby struggles to hold their head up
  • The baby is unable to sit up unassisted
  • The baby is unable to roll over unassisted
  • They feel limp when they’re picked up
  • They feel stiff when they’re picked up
  • The baby constantly arches their back and seems to push themselves away from the person holding them
  • Their legs cross or “scissor” when they’re picked up
  • The baby experiences seizures
  • The baby is excessively fussy
  • The baby has trouble swallowing and difficulty feeding

Cerebral Palsy Symptoms in Children 6 Months to 1 Year

Children who are between six months and one year of age who have cerebral palsy might exhibit some or all of the following symptoms:

  • A general lack of strength and/or coordination
  • An inability to roll over or hold their head up
  • An inability to clasp their hands together
  • An inability to bring the hands to the mouth
  • Preferring to only use one hand while leaving the other balled in a fist at their side
  • A lack of social interaction with their parents, loved ones, and/or other children
  • Difficulty grasping or holding onto toys or other objects
  • Dragging one side of the body while crawling
  • Refusing to crawl; moving by scooting around on the bottom or dragging themselves on their knees

Cerebral Palsy Symptoms in Children 1 Year to 2 Years

In a child between the ages of one and two, an inability to walk or stand up unassisted is a major sign of cerebral palsy. The following are some other indicators to keep in mind:

  • Minimal or no communication development (not saying simple words like “no”, not making sounds, etc.)
  • Minimal or no emotional development (e.g., not responding to parents or others when they make sad or happy faces)
  • Minimal communication with others (e.g., not handing toys to other children, not pointing, not playing pretend, etc.)
  • Not speaking in simple sentences as they get closer to two years of age
  • Sensory difficulties (trouble with vision, hearing, or processing information)
  • Abnormal posture
  • Difficulty eating or drinking (chewing problems, trouble using utensils or cups, etc.)

Cerebral Palsy Symptoms in Children 2 Years and Older

If a child still isn’t walking by the time they’ve reached age two, it’s possible that cerebral palsy is the culprit. Other warning signs in children aged two and older that can point to cerebral palsy include the following:

  • Inability to climb stairs
  • Inability to climb onto furniture (chairs, couches, bed, etc.)
  • Inability to balance on one foot (for at least a few seconds)
  • Trouble communicating
  • Failure to speak in short sentences (around 2-4 words)
  • Not copying simple words or actions
  • Heightened behavioral issues (tantrums, social withdrawal, mood swings, etc. -- beyond the “terrible twos”)

What to Do About These Symptoms

If you notice any of the symptoms listed above in your child, it’s important to act as soon as possible. Contact their doctor and schedule an appointment for an examination. This gives the doctor a chance to evaluate your child’s progress and see for themselves what’s going on.

If your child’s doctor suspects they have cerebral palsy or another condition that’s contributing to their delayed milestones, they will arrange for diagnostic testing. These tests include MRIs and CT scans to check for brain damage, as well as a General Movements Assessment (GMA). The GMA can only be conducted between birth and when your child is five months old.

Once you know that cerebral palsy is the cause of your child’s delays, you can take action to help minimize its effects. This includes early intervention and working with specialists to help them catch up with their peers as much as possible. Every child’s experience with cerebral palsy is different, and many are able to live fulfilling and happy lives if they receive the proper treatment.

Do You Recognize These Symptoms in Your Child?

Recognizing cerebral palsy symptoms in your child can be scary and overwhelming. It’s hard to know where to turn or what to do first. If these symptoms resonate with you, we’re here to help.

We have lots of resources related to cerebral palsy treatment and management on our site, as well as guidelines on how to proceed if you decide you want to take legal action. Check these out today and feel free to contact us today to learn more.

Get the Financial Compensation You Deserve

If you are struggling to provide the security and opportunities your child deserves, but the financial burden has become too heavy, please understand that you are not alone. If your child's disability could have been prevented if not for the actions of a negligent medical provider, you may have a valid legal claim for compensation.

Your child deserves the best medical treatments and physical therapy available - without concerns about the cost. If your child has cerebral palsy caused by medical negligence, call +1 (855) 925-1041 for a free consultation and to learn more about your legal options. Birth injury attorney Laura Brown has dedicated her career to helping families get the support they need to provide the best quality of life for their children after birth injuries due to medical negligence.


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