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The symptoms of cerebral palsy develop in the early years of life – and the condition can take three different forms:

·         Athetoid/dyskinetic (ADCP) – up to one-fifth of those with cerebral palsy have ADCP, which causes abnormal movement such as writhing in limbs, hands, feet and the face or mouth. The muscles controlling movement in the face may cause patients to drool or exhibit unusual facial expressions, as they are unable to control the facial muscles and may even have difficulty with speech.

·         Ataxic – this form of cerebral palsy affects balance and walking as well as perception of space, which means patients may have an unsteady pattern to their movement or walking or posture, possibly with widely-spaced feet and legs when they walk. Around one-tenth of cerebral palsy patients suffer from the ataxic form of the condition and they may also have problems with more intricate motor actions, requiring precise movements while carrying out a certain function (eg holding a pen and writing or tying a shoelace). Reaching for objects and quick movements can also be difficult and some patients with ataxic cerebral palsy may have spasm or muscle tremors.

·         Spasticity – this is the most widely found form of cerebral palsy and causes muscles in limbs to remain contracted, making movement difficult. A characteristic walking pattern with knees turned towards each other is a sign of spastic cerebral palsy. There are also three types of spasticity cerebral palsy – quadriplegia (all four limbs affected), hemiplegia (both limbs affected on just one side of the body) and diplegia (either both legs or arms are affected). Spasticity cerebral palsy can cause muscle spasms, involuntary movement of muscles and shaking or trembling. Around 80% of those with cerebral palsy have symptoms of the spasticity form of the condition.

Cerebral palsy occurs when brain injury causes an error in transmitting signals from the brain to the spinal cord, affecting movement and senses such as sight or hearing.

It is important to remember that although the outward symptoms of cerebral palsy in a child can be distressing to witness for parents, the condition does not necessarily affect your child’s intellect or inherent personality, although sometimes children with cerebral palsy do have learning difficulties as a result of severe brain injury.

Sometimes cerebral palsy occurs as the result of an adverse event during delivery, including if a newborn is starved of oxygen or suffers any other type of injury during birth (eg forceps injury).

It is also important to remember that the symptoms of cerebral palsy do not usually become worse over time – but existing issues such as impaired hearing or eyesight or severe movement problems may mean adapting to a child’s needs as they grow.

Providing the right type of therapy and social engagement at each stage of their development can mean many children with cerebral palsy develop talents and skills and play an active part in family life.

In an infant, the first signs of cerebral palsy may be slowness in developing motor functions (walking, grasping, holding objects) or even sitting up, smiling or talking. Infants with cerebral palsy may also have noticeably weaker or more poorly developed musculature compared with other babies – or may even appear much stiffer in their movements compared with other babies.

The slow develop of skills may be confined to one side of the body – or one particular skill (eg not able to grasp or hold objects).

Babies naturally follow a pattern of development and doctors use this as a measure to assess whether a baby has cerebral palsy symptoms. Testing reflex actions or assessing whether a baby prefers to use one hand or naturally relies on one side of their body rather than the other can be indicators.

A range of tests can also be carried out such as MRI and CT scans. Sometimes slow development in babies may indicate the presence of another condition rather than cerebral palsy and scans can detect whether a brain tumour might be present, for example – or another condition which could be affecting motor functions and reflexes.

Cerebral palsy can also be accompanied by other conditions, such as epilepsy and sometimes visual or hearing problems. Doctors will also test for these conditions – and weakness or stiffness of movement in a baby, accompanied by a lack of interest in their surroundings or lack of reaction to visual or audio stimuli, should always be investigated as soon as possible.

Babies or young children diagnosed with cerebral palsy will be treated by a multi-disciplinary team, offering a range of daily therapies to help the child achieve their best potential.

It may be that families will need help with adapting their home and support in caring for their baby – a support worker and even a psychologist can help families deal with the challenges, while a medical team consisting of doctors and physiotherapists will work to make sure your baby or young child keeps pace with normal development as much as possible.

The charity Scope also offers information, advice and support to parents and families learning to cope with cerebral palsy.

Author Bio: Leo Wyatt is a freelance writer & journalist who graduated from Birmingham University. Leo has worked for several newspapers in the midlands but now spends most of his time writing articles for companies, websites and businesses on a freelance basis. Leo also has particular interests in cars, bikes, health, safety. sports, law and politics.


 


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