Get the Facts on Cerebral Palsy Diagnosis

Cerebral palsy is a complex neurological condition that affects movement and posture. Diagnosing it can be challenging, but with advances in medical technology and a better understanding of the condition, it has become easier to identify and manage. In this blog post, we will delve into the intricacies of cerebral palsy diagnosis, explore the signs and symptoms, discuss the various diagnostic techniques, and examine the role of healthcare professionals in the diagnostic process. By understanding the complexities of cerebral palsy diagnosis, we can better support affected individuals and their families.


Short Summary


  • Early diagnosis of cerebral palsy is essential and can be difficult to distinguish.
  • Healthcare professionals use a combination of developmental milestones, brain imaging scans, and additional tests for accurate diagnosis.
  • A customized care plan tailored to the individual needs of the child is created after a diagnosis with medications, therapies, surgical procedures, etc., in order to improve their quality of life.


Understanding Cerebral Palsy Diagnosis


A young child with cerebral palsy being examined by a doctor


Cerebral palsy diagnosis is based on a combination of observations, screenings, and tests. Early diagnosis is essential for providing the most effective treatment, as younger children possess a greater capacity for healing, and there are several cases of children who have completely recovered from brain injury-induced developmental issues. However, diagnosing cerebral palsy can be challenging, as it can be hard to distinguish between the indicators of CP and the typical reflexes of a developing child, especially in mild cases.

Routine screenings play a crucial role in ascertaining a diagnosis, initiating early intervention, and administering treatment for cerebral palsy. By observing the progression of the child’s motor skills, healthcare professionals can begin the diagnostic process and determine if further evaluation is needed.


Early Signs and Symptoms


The initial indications and manifestations of cerebral palsy include difficulty sustaining the head, rigidity or limpness, excessive salivation, high-pitched wailing, and postponements in accomplishing developmental objectives. These early signs and symptoms can help parents and healthcare professionals begin to suspect cerebral palsy and prompt further evaluation.

If parents have concerns or apprehensions about their child’s development, it is essential for them to communicate with their pediatrician immediately. Early identification and intervention can lead to better outcomes in managing cerebral palsy and its associated challenges.


Average Age of Diagnosis


Due to better testing and screenings, the age of cerebral palsy diagnosis is getting earlier. Most children are diagnosed between 12-24 months old. The signs of a mild case of cerebral palsy can often go undetected until the child is between 3 to 5 years old. But early intervention is essential for children with cerebral palsy in order to maximize results.

Diagnosis for cerebral palsy can vary depending on the type of cerebral palsy a child has. Various factors may influence how quickly a diagnosis is made. By identifying the condition early, healthcare professionals can begin to implement treatment plans and interventions that can improve the child’s quality of life.


Diagnostic Techniques and Tests


A doctor performing a physical examination on a child with cerebral palsy


Diagnostic techniques for cerebral palsy involve various approaches, including developmental milestones and observations, brain imaging scans, and additional tests. Through these methods, healthcare professionals can accurately diagnose cerebral palsy and rule out other potential causes.

Let’s take a closer look at each of these diagnostic techniques.


Developmental Milestones and Observations


An image showing a child with cerebral palsy diagnosis reaching a developmental milestone by taking their first steps with the help of a walker.


Developmental milestones and observations are essential indicators that medical professionals monitor to evaluate a child’s growth and to verify a diagnosis of cerebral palsy. By assessing reflexes, muscle tone, posture, coordination, and other factors, healthcare professionals can better understand the child’s condition.

While screenings for newborns cannot diagnose cerebral palsy directly, they help identify the need for additional tests and detect related conditions. By closely monitoring a child’s development, healthcare professionals can catch potential issues early and ensure the most effective interventions are implemented.


Brain Imaging Scans


Imaging tests, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), computed tomography (CT), and cranial ultrasound, are employed to evaluate the severity of a child’s condition and aid in evaluating other conditions that accompany cerebral palsy. These tests provide detailed images of the child’s brain, helping healthcare professionals diagnose cerebral palsy and exclude other conditions.

Each imaging test has its benefits and challenges. For example, MRI scans provide more precise results than ultrasound or CT, but can be difficult for infants to remain still during the scan, necessitating sedation to ensure they remain tranquil and stationary during the extended scan duration.

Regardless of the specific test used, brain imaging scans play a critical role in the diagnosis of cerebral palsy.


Additional Diagnostic Tests


In addition to brain imaging scans, doctors perform various tests to assess children with cerebral palsy. Blood tests are often used to exclude genetic motor function disorders. Another test that may be performed is an electroencephalogram (EEG), which records the electrical activity of a child’s brain, as measured by electrodes placed on the scalp. The intent of an EEG test is to assess whether a child has seizures.

These additional diagnostic tests help healthcare professionals gain a better understanding of the child’s condition and ensure an accurate diagnosis. By ruling out other potential causes and conditions, doctors can focus on providing the most appropriate care and treatment for the child.


The Role of Healthcare Professionals in Cerebral Palsy Diagnosis


An image representing a pediatrician talking to a parent about their child's condition


Pediatricians and parents play an important role in diagnosing cerebral palsy, as they are often the first to notice signs and symptoms of the condition. In addition to pediatricians, specialists such as neurologists, physical therapists, and geneticists are also involved in the diagnostic process. These healthcare professionals collaborate to provide comprehensive care and support for the child and their family.

Let’s explore the roles of pediatricians, parents, and specialists in more detail.


Pediatricians and Parents


Pediatricians assume a vital role in diagnosing cerebral palsy by detecting indications of CP during examination. They also collaborate with parents to monitor the child’s development and address concerns or questions.

Parents play a crucial role in the diagnosis process, as they are often the first to notice signs of cerebral palsy in their child. By being proactive and communicating with their pediatrician, parents can help ensure their child receives the necessary evaluations and interventions as early as possible.


Specialists Involved in Diagnosis


Specialists, including pediatric neurologists, pediatric physical medicine and rehabilitation specialists, and child developmental specialists, are instrumental in the diagnosis of cerebral palsy. These specialists have the expertise and knowledge to evaluate the child’s condition, perform necessary tests, and develop a comprehensive treatment plan.

The collaboration between various healthcare professionals ensures that the child receives the most accurate diagnosis and appropriate care for their specific type of cerebral palsy. By working together, these professionals can help improve the child’s quality of life and support their growth and development.


Cerebral Palsy Classification and Severity Levels


A child with cerebral palsy using adaptive equipment


Classification of cerebral palsy by severity is done through the Gross Motor Function Classification System (GMFCS), which encompasses five levels of motor impairment, ranging from the least severe (Level I) to the most severe (Level V). The GMFCS serves to classify the severity of cerebral palsy based on gross motor function, thereby aiding in the determination of prognosis and likelihood of improvement in gross motor skills.

Let’s explore the different types of cerebral palsy and how the GMFCS helps assess severity.


Types of Cerebral Palsy


There are several types of cerebral palsy, such as spastic, ataxic, athetoid, hypotonic, and mixed cerebral palsy. The affected body parts and the severity of the condition characterize each type.

Spastic cerebral palsy, the most prevalent form of the condition, is characterized by muscle stiffness and movement difficulties. Ataxic cerebral palsy, on the other hand, is characterized by an impairment of balance and coordination, manifesting in unsteady movements and difficulty with fine motor skills.

Athetoid cerebral palsy affects muscle tone and movement, causing slow, writhing movements, difficulty maintaining posture and balance, and involuntary movements in the face, hands, and feet. By identifying the specific type of cerebral palsy, healthcare professionals can provide targeted treatment and support for the child.


Assessing Severity


A child’s level of impairment can vary as they age. The GMFCS is used to chart this change. The age when motor development begins tapering off is contingent upon the initial level of motor function impairment, as outlined by the GMFCS. A child with Level II motor impairment has the greatest capability to develop motor skills. This growth is expected to reach its peak by 4 1/2 years of age.

By understanding the varying motor development potential depending on severity, healthcare professionals can better tailor treatment plans and interventions to suit the needs and abilities of each individual child. This personalized approach can help improve the child’s quality of life and support their growth and development.


Post-Diagnosis Steps and Treatment Planning


A doctor talking to a parent about their child's health and treatment plan


After diagnosing cerebral palsy, medical professionals consider various treatment options and test for associated conditions, such as intellectual disabilities.

By creating a comprehensive treatment plan with a patient care team, healthcare professionals can provide the best care for the child and their family.


Identifying Associated Conditions


In addition to diagnosing cerebral palsy, healthcare professionals must also identify any associated conditions that may be present. Imaging tests and blood tests can help detect related conditions, such as intellectual disabilities. Identifying these associated conditions is essential to provide comprehensive care and support for the child and their family.

By addressing these related conditions, healthcare professionals can ensure that the child receives the appropriate interventions and support, ultimately improving their overall quality of life and well-being.


Creating a Customized Care Plan


Once a diagnosis of cerebral palsy and any associated conditions have been made, healthcare professionals, including pediatricians, neurologists, physical therapists, occupational therapists, and speech therapists, collaborate to create a comprehensive treatment plan tailored to the child’s specific needs.

Medications, therapies, and surgical procedures may be potential treatment options. Other treatments may also be necessary if required. For example, physical therapy may be recommended to improve strength, flexibility, balance, motor development, and mobility, while braces, splints, or other supportive devices may be prescribed to facilitate function and stretching inflexible muscles.

By creating a customized care plan, healthcare professionals can help improve the child’s quality of life and support their growth and development.




Diagnosing cerebral palsy is a complex process that involves a combination of observations, screenings, and tests. Healthcare professionals, including pediatricians, parents, and specialists, play a crucial role in identifying the condition and determining the most appropriate treatment options. By understanding the various types of cerebral palsy, assessing severity through the GMFCS, and creating customized care plans, medical professionals can provide comprehensive support and care for affected individuals and their families. With early diagnosis and intervention, children with cerebral palsy can live fulfilling, healthy lives.


Frequently Asked Questions

To diagnose cerebral palsy, doctors use a combination of evaluation methods, including medical and family history, physical exams, neurological exams, brain scans and other imaging tests. Doctors may recommend specialized tests to determine the cause or extent of the condition.

Early diagnosis is essential to provide the best possible treatment and help children reach their full potential.

Cerebral palsy is typically diagnosed in infancy or early childhood, with most diagnoses being made before the age of 2. Early detection and diagnosis of symptoms are important, as this can help ensure that appropriate interventions are put into place to help a child reach their full potential.

Yes, a brain scan can be used to detect cerebral palsy. Computed tomography (CT) scans take cross-sectional images of the child’s brain, which allow for the diagnosis of CP and help eliminate any other conditions or diseases that have similar symptoms.

Yes, cerebral palsy is a neurological diagnosis. It is associated with permanent changes in movement and muscle coordination stemming from abnormal brain development.

This neurological disorder can occur during infancy or early childhood.

To diagnose cerebral palsy, doctors typically perform a physical exam, review the patient’s medical and family history, observe the patient’s movements, and check for involuntary muscle contractions.

Depending on the type and severity of symptoms, additional tests such as brain scans, genetic testing, or an EEG may be required.

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