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When Is Cerebral Palsy Diagnosed?

Cerebral palsy is one of the most common types of neurological disorders that results from a brain injury. It can occur both in utero and during delivery. If parents suspect cerebral palsy, they should get their child tested. A doctor would then diagnose cerebral palsy.

If a doctor was to blame for your child's cerebral palsy, they can be held legally responsible in a medical malpractice lawsuit.


Once you hire an experienced cerebral palsy attorney, you can sue your child's doctor. The attorneys at Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers can fight for your family to receive full financial compensation.

Risk Factors for Cerebral Palsy

Parents should already be on the lookout for cerebral palsy if their child's birth or prenatal process had some of the common risk factors. These factors could include:

  • Maternal infection
  • Premature birth (babies born prematurely are much more likely to suffer a brain injury)
  • Low birth weight
  • A protracted and difficult labor
  • Multiple births
  • Infertility treatment
  • Exposure to toxic substances during pregnancy
  • The mother had flu-like symptoms from a condition called Cytomegalovirus

Only about 10% of cases of cerebral palsy are acquired by an injury or condition after birth. Things such as infections and other trauma can injure a developing brain. The other disorders are the result of something that may have gone wrong in the birth process.

Cerebral Palsy and How It Affects Your Child

There are three primary types of cerebral palsy. Each type depends on the area of the brain that is injured. These are the three main types of cerebral palsy:

  • Spastic cerebral palsy- according to the Centers for Disease Control, this is the most common form of the disease, making up about 80% of the cases. This type of cerebral palsy results from an injury to the motor cortex in the brain.
  • Dyskinetic cerebral palsy- the child will suffer from alternating stiff and loose muscles as there are problems transmitting messages between the brain and spinal cord. The child appears as if they have difficulty sitting still, as they can alternate between tense and floppy. Dyskinetic cerebral palsy results from an injury to the part of the brain called the basal ganglia
  • Ataxic cerebral palsy- this type of cerebral palsy primarily affects the child's balance and coordination. The child can have an unusual gait, as they walk with their legs further apart. Children may also struggle with motor skills, such as grasping a writing instrument. Ataxic cerebral palsy is caused by a brain injury to the cerebellum before, during or shortly after birth.

Mixed cerebral palsy is when your child has more than one of these forms of the disease. Most commonly, they will have another form of cerebral palsy in conjunction with spastic cerebral palsy.

Spastic Cerebral Palsy and Muscle Tone

Children who suffer from spastic cerebral palsy will have too much muscle tone. They will often suffer from tight muscles. Spastic cerebral palsy usually impacts the legs the most. However, there are also forms of the condition that could affect the arms.

Children with spastic cerebral palsy often appear to be in pain and discomfort. Half of the children with spastic cerebral palsy will be able to walk independently, while others may need assistive devices or not be able to walk on their own.

Early Symptoms of Cerebral Palsy

Your child may show signs and symptoms of cerebral palsy not long after they are born. While parents may not know that their newborn baby has a brain injury, they may begin to realize it shortly thereafter. The prime symptoms of cerebral palsy are the missed milestones, but there are other indicators that the child's parents may notice.

However, parents may not notice consistent signs in infants younger than one year and only begin to have a more convincing idea as the child gets slightly older.

Here are some early signs of cerebral palsy that may appear in very young children:

  • An abnormal muscle tone that seems either too stiff or floppy
  • Random and uncontrolled movements
  • Muscle spasms
  • Abnormal posture
  • Body tremors
  • Delays in motor development

If parents notice any of these symptoms, they should see a child neurology doctor for further testing, especially if the child already has higher risk factors from something that may have happened during the delivery or the prenatal phase. Parents should track their child's symptoms to report them to the doctor.

Cerebral Palsy Also May Have Symptoms of Intellectual Disabilities

While movement disorders are the main symptom of cerebral palsy, many children will also suffer other conditions that could result from a brain injury.

Some may have difficulty with language because the area of the child's brain that is responsible for speech may be affected. Children may have delays in speech and trouble with speech development. For some parents, this is further confirmation that their child has suffered a brain injury.

Get Help When You Notice Delays in Your Child's Development

Parents may begin to notice the first signs of cerebral palsy when the child has missed some early developmental milestones. Here are some developmental delays that children with cerebral palsy may encounter:

  • Rolling over
  • Sitting
  • Walking
  • Crawling
  • Holding or gripping a toy
  • Pushing up when lying on the stomach
  • Lack of normal reflexes
  • Muscle stiffness
  • Unusual posture

Cerebral palsy is both a movement disorder and a disease that affects your child's motor skills. It can manifest itself in many different ways.

While not every developmental delay is a sign that something is wrong, parents should at least take notice and raise the issue with the child's doctor. Based on the extent of the delays, and the other things that they may observe about the child, the doctor may order tests to confirm cerebral palsy.

Most Children Are Not Diagnosed With Cerebral Palsy Immediately

Even though you may have some indicators about your child's condition in the initial months of their life, most children are not diagnosed with cerebral palsy until around the age of two. Doctors often want to see the symptoms of cerebral palsy persist and perform extensive testing before they give a formal diagnosis.

Oftentimes, the symptoms of cerebral palsy are not immediately obvious at first. Parents may notice something here and there, but they are not necessarily convinced right off the bat. The longer that some of these signs and symptoms persist, the more parents may suspect that something is wrong.

Even when symptoms are present, and the child appears to have neurological problems, it may take a doctor some time to make the diagnosis.

The Doctor Is Already Monitoring Your Child's Growth

While parents are the ones who observe the child's early development on a daily basis, your child is also undergoing frequent examinations by their doctor in their early months and years. The doctor may do things like test their primitive reflexes and observe the child's movements. It may be the doctor who may see some early signs that something is wrong.

The doctor is already practicing developmental medicine when they treat your child. checking for delays and disabilities at 9, 18 and 24 months. The pediatrician may already notice motor delays in this time and refer you to a pediatric neurologist.

How Doctors Diagnose Cerebral Palsy

Your child's doctor can perform a number of tests that can assess their neurological disorders when early indications are that something is wrong.

Here are some of the medical evaluations that your child's doctor may perform to examine the baby's brain:

  • CT Scan- doctors will perform CT scans to take a cross-sectional image of the child's brain. The doctor will be able to look at the child's brain from multiple angles. The CT scan is a very important test as far as your legal case is concerned because it may also be able to tell you what caused the cerebral palsy (such as a birth injury or a mistake the child's prenatal care)
  • Cranial ultrasound- this test will use sound waves to draw a picture of the brain for the doctor, who may be able to tell if there is an injury to a particular area that controls movement. The doctor will be able to tell if there is any difference in the brain's white matter, which is a sign that the child may have cerebral palsy.
  • Imaging tests- tests such as a magnetic resonance imaging exam will show the doctor a 3D view of the brain to reveal any areas that are damaged. Imaging tests require that the child is placed in the center of a hollow tube to get a magnetic scan of the brain. An MRI may reveal the severity and the cause of the child's case of cerebral palsy.
  • Electroencephalogram (EEG)- this test does not necessarily diagnose cerebral palsy itself but doctors will use it to examine a child who has symptoms of epilepsy. Roughly 40% of children with cerebral palsy also have epilepsy, so a diagnosis of epilepsy may also mean that the child has cerebral palsy. An EEG test involves attaching electrodes to the scalp to measure electrical activity in the brain.
  • Genetic testing - this testing may detect abnormalities in gene sequencing that are a sign of the condition. Roughly 10% of cerebral palsy cases result from genetics, as opposed to birth injury and medical malpractice.
  • Metabolic testing- this type of testing may rule out other conditions as the cause of the symptoms that your child is experiencing, as opposed to affirmatively diagnosing cerebral palsy.

Doctors may order additional types of testing when they see a set of test results that could indicate that your child has a brain injury. Physicians will usually use more than one of these types of tests in diagnosing cerebral palsy.

Early Intervention for Cerebral Palsy

Early intervention is key once your child is diagnosed with cerebral palsy. While cerebral palsy is the result of brain damage that can never be healed, therapy can help your child adjust to the condition. With the right type of therapy, they can learn to perform activities of daily life and enhance their physical development.

Doctors may use a variety of treatments that could include:

  • Therapy
  • Medications
  • Surgery
  • Assistive medical devices

These treatments are very expensive and time-consuming. If your child has cerebral palsy, you can expect to miss considerable time from work yourself as you take them to treatments and therapies. In addition, your child will suffer considerable pain and suffering as they deal with their mobility problems as similar symptoms.

Birth Injury Attorneys Helping Families

If your child's movement disorder was caused by medical negligence, we can help you. Our birth injury lawyers work with families of children who have suffered brain injuries. We work to hold doctors responsible for what they did that injured your child.

Developing cerebral palsy leads to very high medical expenses and a lifetime of struggle for your child. Call us today at (888) 424-5757 or contact us online to schedule your free initial consultation. Once you have an accurate diagnosis, we can get to work on your behalf to obtain financial compensation.

We work for you on a contingency basis, and you do not need to pay us anything unless we win your case. Then, we would be paid out of the proceeds of your settlement of the jury award.

FAQ’s Related to CP Diagnosis

Here are the answers to some questions that we are frequently asked about cerebral palsy.

How Long After My Child Develops Cerebral Palsy Do I Have to File a Lawsuit?

Each state will have its own statute of limitations to file a medical malpractice lawsuit. The clock begins to run when you know or should have known of your child's injury. In a cerebral palsy case, you must be careful because the doctor may argue that you should have known of the injury earlier, when your child first began to show symptoms.

You should contact an experienced cerebral palsy attorney when you first begin to suspect that your child has developmental problems to be safe.

How Much Is My Cerebral Palsy Lawsuit Worth?

The value of your case depends on your own specific and individual factors. Severe cases of cerebral palsy would obviously be worth more. Much depends on the degree to which your child has been impacted and the costs of their treatment. Most cerebral palsy cases cost more than $1 million to treat, and that is before you are even paid for the pain and suffering that your child experienced. The value of your case could also depend on how hard your attorney negotiates with the insurance company after they file a lawsuit.

How Long Will My Cerebral Palsy Lawsuit Take?

Medical malpractice lawsuits can take years from the diagnosis of cerebral palsy from start to finish. These are very complex lawsuits that require you to learn and establish detailed scientific facts. You must prove that the doctor acted unreasonably under the circumstances, which is always challenging. Beyond that, courts have crowded dockets, and they may not give you a hearing date for some time into the future.

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