What Are the Potential Signs of Cerebral Palsy in Infants and Toddlers?

Cerebral Palsy Diagnosis, Child Development

toddler boy in mothers arms high-fiving female doctor

Cerebral palsy is typically characterized by a child’s inability to control their muscles, and it may be first apparent in a child’s struggle to achieve developmental milestones. Sometimes, CP is the result of brain damage sustained during labor and delivery. While some children with CP receive a diagnosis in the first few months of birth, it is even more common for many to go one to two years before being diagnosed.

Understanding Basic Developmental Milestones

Developmental milestones are guidelines that can assist parents in determining if children are keeping up with their peers. These milestones are a set of age-specific tasks or functional skills that most children can do within certain age ranges. No two children are exactly alike, so these ranges are in place to account for these differences, without causing concern. However, for children who suffered brain injuries at birth and have cerebral palsy as a result, these milestones may either be severely delayed, or the child may not reach the milestone at all, depending on the severity of their injury.

These milestones are basic skills that lay the foundation for all development and learning. While children develop at their own pace, growth is typically defined in the following ways:

  • Fine motor skills. Children are said to be using their fine motor skills when they learn to use their small muscles, such as when holding an object placed in their hands or using their pincer grasp to pick up objects.
  • Gross motor skills. These skills enable babies and toddlers to achieve significant milestones, including crawling, sitting, and walking.
  • Language skills. Normally developing babies from birth to 5 months should have some language development, including reacting to loud sounds, turning their head toward the source of the sound, watching faces when people speak, and making appropriate sounds and reactions to their environment including fussing, crying, giggling, and laughing. By 11 months, babies should say their first word, try to repeat sounds, and try to communicate by actions or gestures. By 18 months, toddlers should be able to answer simple questions nonverbally, say a couple of words, and imitate simple sounds.
  • Sensory skills. Sensory skills involve the five senses of smell, touch, taste, hearing, and sight. Depending on the location and severity of a brain injury, children experiencing developmental delays might be able to achieve developmental milestones through various interventions and therapies. Others having more severe brain injuries may never be able to achieve these milestones.

Signs of Cerebral Palsy Infants and Toddlers are Likely to Display

During well-child checks, pediatricians typically ask questions to determine if developmental milestones are being met. These questions can assist parents, caregivers, and medical professionals in identifying areas where the child may be falling behind their peers. However, you do not have to wait for your child’s next visit to the pediatrician to express any concerns you may have—in fact, it is mainly due to parental concerns that the majority of all disabilities are diagnosed.

Signs of cerebral palsy can vary greatly, but there are a few indications that may present the possibility of CP to parents. For example:

  • In young infants. Difficulties in feeding, sucking, and other oral motor functions; difficulties in controlling their head when picked up; shaky or stiff legs or arms; and legs that scissor or cross when the baby is picked up.
  • In older babies. Low muscle tone, inability to hold their head up, muscle spasms or stiffness, poor muscle control, inability to sit up or roll over by the age of 8 months.
  • In toddlers. Inability to walk by the age of 18 months; random, uncontrollable muscle movements or spasms, fidgety or jerky movements, inordinate clumsiness, inability to stand, abnormal posture, and difficulty with fine motor skills such as eating.

An Important Note about Developmental Milestones

Parents, caregivers, and medical professionals must remember that developmental milestones are simply guidelines. While many babies will reach these milestones around similar ages, babies will grow at their own pace. Premature babies may also exhibit developmental delays that may be no cause for concern.

Since parents and caregivers spend the most time with the child and are in tune with what their baby is doing daily, they are often the first line of defense in getting their child the treatment they need.

While missing or severely delayed milestones don’t automatically mean that a child has cerebral palsy, there is a higher chance of CP or another disability the longer the milestone is delayed or the more milestones that the child misses. If you have any concerns about your child’s development, express this concern to their pediatrician, so the doctor can perform a developmental screening.

Experienced Cerebral Palsy Attorneys Who Care About Your Family

Many instances of cerebral palsy could have been avoided and resulted from the negligence of a doctor, hospital, or another medical professional. If you believe that your child’s cerebral palsy was the result of malpractice, we’re here to help.

The experienced legal and medical team of Cerebral Palsy Family Lawyers at Janet, Janet & Suggs is here to uncover the truth behind your child’s diagnosis and help secure the brightest future possible for your child. Contact us today to discuss your potential case.



Claire Surles, RN
Reviewed by:
Claire Surles, RN
Registered Nurse

Claire comes to JJS after a 10-year career as a labor and delivery nurse. She dedicated her hospital efforts to advocating for families, providing the safest birthing environment possible as Newborn Admission Nurse at UMMC St. Joseph Medical Center in Towson, Maryland. Her passion for helping those who experienced losses at any stage of gestation led to her appointment as Coordinator of the hospital’s ROOTS perinatal loss program. READ FULL BIO

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