When Pursuing a Cerebral Palsy Diagnosis, Persistence is Key
By John Lehman
Cerebral palsy is one of the most common developmental disorders in children. However, it may take years before an official cerebral palsy diagnosis is made. As a parent, you know your child better than anyone else, including your child’s doctors. If you believe your child isn’t developing normally, insist that your doctor investigate your concerns.
Identifying the Signs of Cerebral Palsy
Knowing the most common signs of cerebral palsy will make it easier to determine if a trip to the pediatrician is in order. While it’s better to identify these signs as early as possible, a child can be diagnosed with cerebral palsy as late as the age of five. Medical professionals have identified specific clinical signs of cerebral palsy, which include disorders pertaining to the development of:
- Muscle tone
- Movement control
- Fine motor skills
- Gross motor skills
- Oral motor skills
Typically, most young children will not be able to adequately explain their symptoms to their parents or doctors, so it’s up to parents and caregivers to look for these signs as early warnings of cerebral palsy.
Understanding the Causes of Cerebral Palsy
There are many causes of cerebral palsy, although not all causes have been identified. Some cases develop during pregnancy, while others develop during or shortly after birth. Cerebral palsy can develop as a result of irregular brain development or brain damage to the fetus, although other health issues have been implicated. Some instances of cerebral palsy are preventable, such as those that result from medical malpractice. Others occur naturally through no fault of the mother or her doctors. Though the causes are many, the diagnosis is often made using the same tests and procedures.
Talking to Your Doctor about a Diagnosis
If you believe your child may have cerebral palsy, schedule an appointment with your pediatrician or a doctor who specializes in neurology. The doctor will run a series of developmental screening tests on your child to determine whether or not your child has cerebral palsy and, sometimes, what might have caused it. These tests typically include testing blood and urine samples, performing an MRI and other tests.
Keep in mind that your doctor may not be able to make a diagnosis immediately, as the common signs of cerebral palsy may not be evident from the first exam. For example, your doctor may not have seen a significant delay in your child’s developmental milestones, and therefore may be hesitant to make a diagnosis until your child grows older. Additional testing and monitoring over time may be necessary to confirm or rule out the possibility of cerebral palsy. You may also consider speaking with another pediatrician for a second opinion. Arming yourself with more information and observations is always helpful when making a decision about your child’s wellbeing.
If your child is diagnosed with cerebral palsy, your doctor will recommend a specific treatment plan based on your child’s needs.
Most children diagnosed with cerebral palsy will undergo some physical therapy to improve their motor skills. Depending on the severity of their condition, the use of mechanical aids or even surgery may be required. Speech therapy may also be necessary if your child has difficulty developing communication skills. In some cases, children with cerebral palsy can use computerized communication devices to assist them. Another treatment for cerebral palsy involves using medications to reduce pain or address problems with muscle spasticity.
Unfortunately, there is no known cure for cerebral palsy. However, with the right knowledge and a proper diagnosis, children affected by the disorder can go on to lead long and healthy lives. For more information on understanding and treating cerebral palsy for your child, visit the treatment section of CPFamilyNetwork.org.