How Do I Know If My Toddler Has Cerebral Palsy?

Cerebral Palsy Diagnosis

smiling toddler girl with cerebral palsy holding blocks that spell out CP? over her head

The toddler years are a time of enormous cognitive, emotional, and social development. But for parents whose children aren’t on track with those normal developmental milestones, this can be a worrisome time. These delays could suggest the existence of a number of different conditions, including cerebral palsy—a neurological disorder that controls muscle movement and posture.

Cerebral palsy is most often diagnosed during early childhood, between 18 and 24 months of age—the peak toddler years. However, it may be discovered much earlier for parents who know what to look for; because early diagnosis is so beneficial for a child’s development, close monitoring is key. Below, we discuss the most common signs of cerebral palsy in your toddler.

What Is Cerebral Palsy, and What Are the Signs?

Cerebral palsy (CP) is a neurological condition that results in loss or impairment of motor function. It affects body movement, muscle control, muscle coordination, muscle tone, reflex, posture, and balance. It can also impact fine motor skills, gross motor skills, and oral motor functioning. CP is often caused by brain injury before birth, during birth, or immediately after. It can also result from a developmental disorder, genetic or otherwise.

The most apparent early sign of cerebral palsy is a delay in the fundamental growth milestones mentioned above, such as rolling over, sitting, crawling, talking, and walking. However, the physical and cognitive signs of CP can vary depending on which parts of the brain are affected, how severe the injury is, and the age of the child when symptoms first appear. This makes it extremely important to monitor your child’s development and movement closely. The cerebral palsy signs that may be a cause for concern in your toddler include:

  • Weak muscle tone in the limbs, which results in stiff (hypertonic) or floppy (hypotonic) arms and legs
  • Stiffness in muscles or joints
  • Uncontrolled movement in the arms or legs
  • A delay in meeting milestones, such as rolling over, crawling, and walking
  • Difficulty coordinating body movements, including grasping, and clapping
  • Muscle spasms
  • Uncontrolled drooling or difficulty swallowing
  • Poor balance
  • Involuntary movements or tremors
  • Difficulty with fine motor tasks
  • Difficulty controlling muscles related to speech

Why Early Diagnosis of Cerebral Palsy Is So Important

If your toddler shows any of the above signs of poor control over muscle movement or lagging behind on physical milestones, you should consult with your child’s healthcare provider right away. They will be able to provide further testing, including:

  • Physical exam. A routine exam will check for low muscle tone and evidence of spasticity in the hips, knees, ankles, shoulders, elbows, and wrists.
  • CT scans. These images of the brain may reveal damage to the areas of the brain associated with balance and movement.
  • MRI scans. By using magnetic fields, radio waves and computer-imaging technology, these detailed pictures may reveal visible signs of brain damage.
  • X-rays and EOS imaging. X-rays and EOS imaging (which uses significantly less radiation) offer three-dimensional pictures of the entire body. Physicians may use these imaging tests to monitor the development of bones throughout a child’s growth.

When it comes to cerebral palsy, early diagnosis is critical for a couple of reasons. The sooner it’s detected, the sooner a doctor can begin the treatment and therapy that’s imperative for a child’s physical, cognitive, social, and emotional growth. Early diagnosis is also important for children whose condition was caused by a birth injury. These families may be legally entitled to compensation for treatment and therapy that can greatly improve well-being and quality of life for their child with cerebral palsy.

If you suspect that your child’s cerebral palsy was the result of a birth injury, the Cerebral Palsy Family Lawyers at Janet, Janet & Suggs are here to help your family seek the justice you deserve. Contact us today for a free, no-obligation consultation to discuss your case, and let us help you ensure that your child reaches their full potential.



Reviewed by:
Trish Fletcher, MS, BSN, CRNP, NNP-BC, ALNC
Neonatal Nurse Practitioner | Birth Injury Legal Nurse Consultant

Tricia is a dedicated, focused, Birth Injury Legal Nurse Consultant and Neonatal Nurse Practitioner with more than 25 years of experience. Her strong clinical and critical thinking skills, paired with expertise caring for neonates in a Level III Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), ensures meticulous medical records review. READ FULL BIO

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