Diagnosing Your Child’s Cerebral Palsy (CP)

Following an observational diagnosis of assessing key milestones that your child has or has not hit per the appropriate developmental timeline, we recommend you contact your pediatrician or family physician. If your doctor suspects that your child has CP, the next steps will include a series of tests to diagnose the condition properly.

In many cases, the pediatrician will refer you to a pediatric neurologist, who specializes in diseases that affect a child’s nervous system. From there, the pediatric neurologist will conduct several neurological tests (as shared below) to determine if your child has CP.

Imaging Tests and Brain Scans

CP develops when a brain injury occurs during a child’s neurological development. Imaging testing allows doctors to view and further comprehend a child’s brain injuries to help assess the severity of their CP.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)

An MRI scan uses powerful magnets and radio waves to produce a three-dimensional image of the brain. The test can take up to an hour, after which doctors will be able to view the activity of your child’s brain and determine if there is any irregular behavior or lesions on the brain.

MRI scans will allow a doctor to determine if your child has CP, and what may have caused it. While an MRI is a safe and effective way to monitor your child’s irregular brain behavior, it can take up to an hour and is often a loud process. Doctors often recommend giving your child light sedative beforehand so he or she remains still and calm throughout the scanning.

Electroencephalogram (EEG)

An Electroencephalogram (EEG) measures the electrical activity in the brain and is often given to children who show signs of epilepsy. Epilepsy is extremely common for a child with CP, and seizures can be quite frequent. It is important to get an EEG if your child experiences frequent seizures or shows other signs of epilepsy. During the test, doctors attach small metal patches called electrodes to the scalp in order to record electrical waves in your child’s brain. An EEG allows doctors to determine if your child has any kind of brain disorder, such as epilepsy or CP.

Cranial Ultrasound

Cranial Ultrasounds are used primarily to determine if an infant has Cerebral Palsy or another type of brain disorder. In the test, the ultrasound will photograph the brain primarily focusing on the white tissue around it. Damage to the white tissue is a key indicator that your child has CP.

After Your Child is Diagnosed

If your child is diagnosed with CP, the doctor will want to perform specific tests to measure the effect of the disorder on the child’s development process, and the severity of the CP itself. Some of these additional tests include:

  • Intellectual Disability test
  • Hearing and Speech test
  • Vision/Sight test
  • Movement test

After completing these additional tests, your doctor will be able to determine the severity level of your child’s CP.

How Severe is Your Child’s CP?

There are 5 levels of severity for each type of Cerebral Palsy. These forms can be determined by your child’s ability to communicate, move and successfully handle objects. Each form of disability ranges from light to severe. For example, the Communication Function Classification levels include

Level 1 – In most situations, a child has little to no problem listening and speaking effectively with others.

Level 2- A child is able to listen and speak independently, but at a slower pace than normal.

Level 3- A child has difficulty communicating with individuals they are not comfortable and/or familiar with. However, can communicate quite effectively with individuals they are more accustomed to.

Level 4- A child is not always capable of communicating with familiar individuals as well as unfamiliar.

Level 5- A child has great difficulty communicating with anyone, including familiar individuals such as family members

For more information on the other forms of CP severity visit the Cerebral Palsy Alliance for more details.

Do you need CP help?