As parents, we want to find out and understand what it is that is causing our children pain and suffering quickly so that we can provide them with the care and treatment they so desperately require. For this reason, it can be extremely frustrating to undergo the process of diagnosing cerebral palsy. Many of the symptoms mimic or include other conditions and doctors must first eliminate other potential causes of your child’s symptoms before coming to the conclusion that he or she has cerebral palsy. The process is tumultuous and wears on parents emotionally and mentally but is required in order to ensure that the diagnosis is correct and to formulate the right treatment plan for your child.
How Cerebral Palsy is Diagnosed
When a child is at an elevated risk of being diagnosed with cerebral palsy or parents begin to notice signs that something is not right, doctors will begin a twelve step process of evaluating, testing and diagnosing the child. This process must be followed in order to narrow down and eventually rule out the other possible causes of his or her symptoms and to provide a definitive diagnosis.
- Observation by the family— the first step in diagnosing cerebral palsy is taken at home. Family members are asked to observe the child and record any abnormal behaviors or symptoms that manifest themselves throughout a normal day to day routine. Parents are instructed specifically to watch for symptoms of physical impairment— which could manifest through muscle tone or the inability to perform motor functions— and developmental delay such as speed impediments or difficulty learning.
- Observation by a pediatrician— after doctors determine that the symptoms reported by a child’s parents warrant further investigation, they will ask to perform clinical observations that will include tests to determine whether the child’s reflexes are developing normally. If the child was born prematurely or considered high risk for neurological disordered, this form of observation may begin immediately following birth.
- Assessing development of motor function— because diminished motor function is one of the primary symptoms of cerebral palsy, doctors will perform tests to determine whether the child’s motor functions are limited or impaired. This assessment includes examinations of the child’s muscle tone, posture, coordination, reflexes, balance and fine motor functions. If the results indicate abnormalities, doctors will proceed to the next step toward a diagnosis. The severity of the symptoms will be recorded as well as this information will be required later on both in determining the cause of the condition as well as forming a treatment plan.
- Examination of medical history— in order to rule out other conditions, doctors will evaluate the medical histories of both parents. This information can rule out genetic factors and conditions that run in the family. As well as evaluating the medical histories of both parents, doctors will want to review prenatal records and those following the birth of the child in order to collect information that could determine the cause of the condition.
- Ruling out other factors and assessing associative conditions— cerebral palsy may be accompanied by other conditions and those conditions themselves may mimic the symptoms of cerebral palsy, making the initial diagnosis extremely difficult. During this stage of diagnosis, doctors will order a series of tests in order to detect neurological conditions, genetic diseases, degenerative diseases, tumors and other injuries that can mimic the signs of cerebral palsy. Some of these conditions may be treatable or curable.
- Reviewing test results— a multitude of tests will be performed to narrow and rule out other possible causes of the child’s symptoms as well as to help diagnose cerebral palsy. These tests include imaging scans such as an MRI or CT scan and cranial ultrasound. The purpose of imaging scans is to detect abnormalities in brain development or damage to the specific areas of the brain that control motor function, speech and cognitive processing. Other tests are performed to assess the child’s vision, hearing, behavior and physical development. During this stage, it is often determined that another condition or injury could be the cause of the child’s symptoms but if all other possibilities are ruled out, it will result in a more definitive diagnosis.
- Initial diagnosis— once doctors evaluate the tests and determine that cerebral palsy is indeed the cause of the child’s injuries, an initial diagnosis will be presented and steps will be made toward forming a treatment plan. Doctors try not to give a premature diagnosis of cerebral palsy in order to decrease the chance of misdiagnosis and to help the families adjust to the possibility that their children may have the condition.
- Seeking a second opinion— parents are encouraged to seek a second opinion in order to truly confirm that their child has cerebral palsy and to rule out the possibility of misdiagnosis.
- Determining cause— the information collected in the previous stages of diagnosis is used in determining the exact cause of the injury that led to a cerebral palsy diagnosis. This information is important because it could indicate whether negligence or medical malpractice was a contributing factor.
- Assembling a care team— once a child has been diagnosed, it is important to create an effective treatment plan and the first step is to determine which forms of treatment are required as well as who will provide specialized care.
- Creating a treatment plan— once a team has been assembled, each specialist will coordinate with a pediatrician to form and implement a plan of care that is designed around the specific needs of the child.
- Acceptance of a life with cerebral palsy— the family must now face the reality of caring for a loved one with cerebral palsy and address all of the challenges that accompany the diagnosis. The emotional, physical and financial stress placed on family members can feel like it is too much to bear, but with the proper support system and resources, it is possible to adapt and plan for the future needs of the child.
If your child has been diagnosed with cerebral palsy, contact the Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers for more information about your rights as a parent as well as for assistance with resources that will help you through your child’s diagnosis. Our team of cerebral palsy attorneys not only specializes in the representation of people just like you in civil litigation, but we also have access to resources that will make the process of diagnosing your child less burdensome. If we are unable to assist you in collecting compensation, these services will come at no cost.