The symptoms of cerebral palsy are not usually obvious just after a baby is born. They normally become noticeable during the first 2 or 3 years of a child's life.
Speak to your health visitor or a GP if you have any concerns about your child's health or development.
The main symptoms of cerebral palsy are problems with movement, co-ordination and development.
Possible signs in a child include:
- delays in reaching development milestones – for example, not sitting by 8 months or not walking by 18 months
- seeming too stiff or too floppy (hypotonia)
- weak arms or legs
- fidgety, jerky or clumsy movements
- random, uncontrolled movements
- muscle spasms
- shaking hands (tremors)
- walking on tiptoes
The severity of symptoms varies significantly from child to child.
The parts of the body affected can also vary. Sometimes only one side of the body is affected, sometimes the whole body is affected, and sometimes mainly the legs are affected.
People with cerebral palsy can also have a range of other problems, including:
- feeding, drooling and swallowing difficulties
- problems with speaking and communication
- seizures or fits (epilepsy)
- difficulty falling asleep and/or staying asleep
- gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD) – where acid from the stomach leaks up into the oesophagus (gullet)
- an abnormally curved spine (scoliosis)
- hips that pop out (dislocate) easily
- difficulty controlling the bladder (urinary incontinence)
- a learning disability – about half of children with cerebral palsy have a learning disability
- eye problems – including reduced vision, a squint or uncontrollable eye movements
- hearing loss
Your doctors may refer to your or your child's condition as a particular type of cerebral palsy, based on the symptoms you or your child has.
There are 4 main types of cerebral palsy:
- spastic cerebral palsy – the muscles are stiff and tight (especially when trying to move them quickly), making it difficult to move and reducing the range of movement that's possible
- dyskinetic cerebral palsy – the muscles switch between stiffness and floppiness, causing random, uncontrolled body movements or spasms
- ataxic cerebral palsy – when a person has balance and co-ordination problems, resulting in shaky or clumsy movements and sometimes tremors
- mixed cerebral palsy – when a person has symptoms of more than one type of cerebral palsy
You may also hear terms such as hemiplegia or diplegia. These refer to the parts of the body affected by cerebral palsy.
Hemiplegia means one side of the body is affected, diplegia is where 2 limbs are affected, monoplegia is where one limb is affected, and quadriplegia is where all 4 limbs (and usually the whole body) are affected.