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Cerebral Palsy Signs and Symptoms

A cerebral palsy diagnosis is made by testing motor skills and reflexes, looking into medical history, and employing a variety of specialized tests. Although cerebral palsy symptoms may change over time, cerebral palsy by definition is not progressive, so if a patient shows increased impairment, the problem may be something other than cerebral palsy.



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Between 500,000 – 700,000 Americans have some degree of cerebral palsy. About 3,000 babies are born with the disorder each year, and another 500 or so acquire it in the early years of life.


Signs can appear during several stages of early life. They include:


Neonatal – Early Infancy (0-3 Months)


  • Excessive lethargy or irritability
  • High pitched cry
  • Poor head control
  • Weak suck/tongue thrust/tonic bite
  • Oral hypersensitivity
  • Decreased interest in surroundings
  • Stiff or floppy posture
  • Abnormal or prolonged reflexes



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Later Infancy


Inability to perform motor skills as indicated:


  • Control hand grasp by 3 months
  • Rolling over by 5 months
  • Independent sitting by 7 months


Abnormal Developmental Patterns:


  • Hand preference by 12 months
  • Excessive arching of back
  • Log rolling
  • Abnormal or prolonged parachute response


Abnormal Developmental Patterns after 1 year of age:


  • “W sitting” – knees flexed, legs extremely rotated
  • “Bottom shuffling” Scoots along the floor
  • Walking on tiptoe or hopping


If any of these symptoms have sparked serious concern, your pediatrician can assess the situation and direct you and your child to a specialist. Those most qualified to diagnose cerebral palsy include developmental pediatricians and child neurologists. You can also contact a local intervention agency. Before an accurate diagnosis can be made, a neurological professional will want to perform motor ability and developmental tests, as well as evaluate your child’s reflexes and medical history. For children over three years of age, your local public school can serve as a very helpful resource as well.



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