Cerebral palsy is a term used to describe a group of disorders that cause impairments to the brain and nervous system functions. There are several different types of cerebral palsy and the symptoms that manifest may differ widely depending on the type of cerebral palsy and the severity of the damage that caused the disorder. Symptoms can range from mild to severe and can affect one or both sides of the body. Cerebral palsy symptoms can begin to show in children as young as three months old or as old as two years.
Spastic Cerebral Palsy Symptoms
Spastic cerebral palsy is the most common type of cerebral palsy, accounting for about 70 to 80 percent of cases. Symptoms of spastic cerebral palsy often include muscles and joints that are too tight and do not stretch or open up all the way. The gait of children with spastic cerebral palsy is often abnormal. The legs may cross in scissor movements while walking, the knees may touch, or the children may walk on the toes. The arms may also stay tucked in to the sides while moving around and some groups of muscles may entirely lose function and become paralyzed.
Diskenetic Cerebral Palsy Symptoms
Also called extrapyramidal, diskenetic cerebral palsy affects the coordination of muscle movements. There are two main types of diskenetic cerebral palsy, athetoid and ataxic. Athetoid cerebral palsy causes uncontrolled movements of any part of the body, including the face, mouth, and tongue. Ataxic cerebral palsy typically affects the balance, coordination, and depth perception, which can cause symptoms such as unsteady walking or a lack of ability to walk.
Mixed Cerebral Palsy Symptoms
In many cases, the types of cerebral palsy are not clear-cut and cerebral palsy is considered “mixed.” A common combination is spastic and athetoid cerebral palsy, in which some symptoms of each type are present. Symptoms may vary widely in cases of mixed cerebral palsy, and may include any combination of physical, cognitive, and developmental impairments that are present in the different types of cerebral palsy.
Developmental Cerebral Palsy Symptoms
Cerebral palsy symptoms are often not identified until children reach six and a half to nine months of age. At this time, children usually start to mobilize and it becomes evident if one side of the body is being favored or if there are issues with muscle coordination. Developmental delays such as issues with grasping objects may also become evident and children may begin to fall behind developmental milestones. As children get older, cerebral palsy symptoms such as learning disabilities and intellectual impairments may inhibit development.
Postural and Visible Symptoms
Depending on the way that cerebral palsy affects the body, some symptoms may be present and identifiable immediately. Babies may hold abnormal posture, with muscles appearing “floppy.” Over time, muscle deficits may begin to affect bone growth. Bones require stresses from muscle definition to grow into normal shapes and sizes. When muscle definition is not normal, bones may become thinner or thicker than normal and joint deformities may begin to manifest. Bones may also stop growing sooner than normal, resulting in shorter heights or legs and arms that are different lengths.
Brain and Nervous System Symptoms
Children with cerebral palsy may or may not have intellectual and learning disabilities. Children with cerebral palsy often have communication problems, so it may be difficult for children to articulate knowledge even when cognitive impairments are not present. Cerebral palsy may also cause hearing or vision problems, seizures, and pain as a result of brain and nervous system problems.
Cerebral palsy symptoms may interfere with daily functions, especially as children grow older. Feeding may be difficult, as chewing, swallowing, and controlling mouth movements is often affected by the lack of muscle control and sometimes by tremors. Breathing complications may also be present. Incontinence and drooling are common symptoms of cerebral palsy, which may make it difficult for children to take part in many activities and functions.
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