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How do you know your child has Cerebral Palsy?

Cerebral Palsy is a collection of syndromes characterized by disorders of movement and posture caused by non-progressive injury to the immature brain. This condition occurs when the area of the brain that controls movement has been damaged close to the time of birth or early in the child’s life. Therefore, some children are born with the condition (congenital) or the symptoms may develop after birth (acquired).

Is My Baby At Risk?

The main risk factors for cerebral palsy (CP) that occur before or at the time of birth include; low birth weight especially babies who weigh less than 5 pounds or 2500 grams, decreased oxygen to the baby during the delivery called perinatal hypoxia even in babies delivered at full term; and maternal problems such as certain infections while pregnancy e.g. Rubella, German measles, Chicken Pox and Herpes as well as exposure to toxins, decrease blood flow from mother to baby across the placenta. Risks for CP after delivery include problems that affect the baby’s brain, such as an infection in the brain (encephalitis) or around the brain (meningitis), brain trauma, severe jaundice which is the presence of extremely high levels of bilirubin that causes the yellowing of eyes in new born as well as near drowning which would cause decreased oxygen to the brain.

 What are the signs of Cerebral Palsy?

The degree of the brain injury will determine the range of severity of the impairments. The main symptoms and signs in Cerebral Palsy are muscular and movement problems. These may be associated with:

  • variation in muscle tones – either too stiff or too floppy
  • poor coordination and balance,
  • overdeveloped or underdeveloped muscles
  • delays in the development of gross and fine motor functions
  • involuntary movement
  • limited range of movement
  • difficulty producing speech

Other impairments that may accompany a diagnosis of CP include seizure disorder, intellectual development disorder, learning disabilities, eye movement dysfunction, mouth movement dysfunction and gastrointestinal impairment.

How can parents get help?

It is recommended that parents consult with a medical doctor, preferably a paediatrician who will assess the child for one or more of the signs mentioned above. The paediatrician’s assessment will include a discussion about the child’s development as well as the mother’s medical history during the pregnancy. He/she will examine the child’s posture, movement, muscle tone, motor skills and reflexes. A diagnosis of Cerebral Palsy will require several assessments to determine the child’s developmental needs. Additionally, a comprehensive diagnosis is not usually completed until the child turns 2 years old as some symptoms may not be apparent before that age.

Following the diagnosis, the paediatrician will recommend a team of medical professionals that includes:

A Physiatrist/Rehabilitation Doctor– who will treat the child’s physical problems by using oral antispasticity agents such as muscle injection to decrease the stiffness such as botulinum toxin injections and phenol injections; and intrathecal baclofen pump management to improve function and decrease pain.

An orthopaedic doctor will treat problems with muscle, tendon, or bone development.

A neurosurgeon will treat problems relating to the brain, spinal cord or the spinal nerves to decrease stiffness.

Based on the severity of the child’s medical diagnosis, continued care by a team of therapists with specialized training may be recommended. The team of therapists may include:

Physical Therapist/Physiotherapist

Occupational therapist

Speech, language and swallow therapist

Nutritionist

Otolaryngologist (Hearing doctor)

Ophalmologist (Eye Doctor)