Cerebral palsy comes in various forms, and its symptoms can affect individuals differently. There are three general types of CP, one of which is ataxic cerebral palsy.

What Is Ataxic Cerebral Palsy?

Ataxic cerebral palsy is the rarest type of cerebral palsy. It involves the entire body and denotes a condition indicating weak muscle tone. This type of cerebral palsy involves fluctuating muscle tone and often means abnormal body movements that can affect the trunk, hands, arms, and legs. Some children may experience hypotonia, a neuromuscular disorder commonly referred to as “floppy infant syndrome” or “infantile hypotonia.” Individuals with this diagnosis are said to be “hypotonic” and demonstrate “hypotonicity.”

What Are the Causes of Ataxic Cerebral Palsy?

Ataxic cerebral palsy may be caused by a birth injury or birthing trauma, and sometimes a natural injury. Other times, it is caused by medical malpractice or negligence. Environmental factors or genetic, muscle, or central nervous system disorders such as Down syndrome, muscular dystrophy, Prader-Willi syndrome, myotonic dystrophy, or Tay-Sachs disease can all contribute as a cause of ataxic cerebral palsy.

How Does Ataxic Cerebral Palsy Affect the Brain?

Imagine the cerebral cortex as the brain’s switchboard. Since the cerebral cortex contains nearly 75% of all the neuron cell bodies in the nervous system, injury to this portion of the brain would result in a variety of neuromuscular disorders. The effects of various injuries to the cerebral cortex depend on the location and severity of the damage. Doctors often describe the type of cerebral palsy a child has based on which limbs are affected.

In the lower portions of the cortex, motor areas activate muscles of the head, face, and tongue. Therefore, any injury to the motor system or pathways may result in a loss of the ability to produce purposeful muscular movements. The resulting disability would be classified as a “neuromuscular” disorder. The primary motor areas of the cerebral cortex lie in the frontal lobes of the brain, therefore frontal lobe damage can result in ataxic cerebral palsy as well as a large variety of neurological disorders. An injury to the motor system may result in loss of the ability to make purposeful muscular movements and can impair the use of the hands, arms, legs, head, or eyes.

The frontal lobes are also responsible for behavioral and emotional development, which means trauma to this portion of the brain may impair perception and rationality, behavior, personality, language skills, attention span, motor skills, facial expressions, and sexual behavior.

The effects of ataxic cerebral palsy can range from complete loss of a function to compromised and diminished function. It is possible to determine the location of a cerebral injury by determining what functions and abilities are absent or diminished. In the field of research, scientists are looking at traumatic events in newborn babies’ brains, such as bleeding, epileptic seizures, and breathing and circulation problems, which can cause the abnormal release of chemicals that trigger the kind of damage that causes ataxic cerebral palsy.

Moreover, injury to the parasympathetic or sympathetic portions of the midbrain can result in ataxic cerebral palsy since the midbrain plays a role in facilitating motor function and muscle tone. Damage to the cerebellum portion of the brain can result in ataxic cerebral palsy and hypotonia since the cerebellum facilitates the controlling and coordinating of muscles and helps with sustaining posture.

How Is Ataxic Cerebral Palsy Diagnosed?

Often, cerebral palsy is diagnosed when a child fails to meet their developmental milestones. Many physicians are reluctant to make a diagnosis of CP, until a child is 18 to 24 months old. Many of the normal developmental milestones are based on motor functions, such as reaching for toys, sitting, and walking. Some of the most pronounced movement disorders associated with ataxic cerebral palsy may not be evident until a child is expected to achieve certain developmental milestones.

What Are the Symptoms of Ataxic Cerebral Palsy?

This rare type of cerebral palsy affects balance and depth perception. Children with ataxic cerebral palsy will often have poor balance and coordination, poor gross motor control, and challenges with precise movements. For example, the person may reach too far or too close to touch objects and may also have poor hand control. It can also present issues involving a child’s ability to walk, sit, maintain torso control, or use upper and lower extremities.

A child with this form of cerebral palsy may walk with the feet unusually far apart and experience hand control issues, whereby only one hand is able to reach for an object; and the other hand may shake with attempts to move it. A child may not be able to write or use scissors and may experience difficulty with quick or precise movements, such as writing or buttoning a shirt. A child may also display difficulties with sucking, swallowing, oral motor skills, breathing, and delayed gastric and intestinal motility, further putting a child at risk of reflux and GERD.

The hypotonic state of muscle tone that may be accompanied by ataxic cerebral palsy is not the same as muscle weakness, although the two conditions can co-exist. Depending on the nature, severity, and location of the neurological damage, hypotonia can affect the entire body or be limited to parts of the body. It has the potential to impact cardiac function and bladder control and may influence pulmonary function by inhibiting diaphragm and respiratory muscle tone.

Children with this disorder may or may not exhibit developmental disabilities or mental retardation. In moderate to severe cases, a child may be at increased risk of contractures, spinal scoliosis, and other musculoskeletal disorders.

Movement disorders associated with ataxic cerebral palsy may include tremors or jerky uncoordinated movements, which can occur when trying to exhibit control over affected muscles. Children with ataxic cerebral palsy, or ataxic CP, have a disturbed sense of balance and depth perception, characterized by tremors or shaky movements. Depending on the nature and severity of the underlying cerebral injury, each case affects a child differently and some have more than one form of cerebral palsy, also known as mixed cerebral palsy.

What Is the Prognosis for Children with Ataxic Cerebral Palsy?

Ataxic cerebral palsy does not always cause profound disabilities. While one child with severe ataxic cerebral palsy might be profoundly delayed or unable to walk and need extensive, lifelong therapy and care, another with mild cerebral palsy might be only slightly inconvenienced and require no special assistance. Therapy, supportive treatments, medications, and surgery can help many individuals improve their motor skills and ability to communicate with the world.

What Are the Treatments for Ataxic Cerebral Palsy?

Although there is no cure for the underlying neurological injury, children with ataxic cerebral palsy can benefit greatly from a variety of interventions. For example, physical, occupational and speech therapy offers the venue to strengthen diminished or hypotonic muscle groups, and in some cases can help the brain establish new and different pathways to help facilitate a specific motor function.

Early intervention and management of the consequences of ataxic cerebral palsy are crucial in early childhood development. Left unaddressed, the absence of life skills that children rely on for so many of life’s demands can lead to severe developmental delays, diminished quality of life, and a severely compromised level of independence, not to mention the behavioral issues a child will surely exhibit as a result of frustrations due to their inabilities. Consult your doctor for use of these therapies with other neurological disorders.

Was Your Child’s CP a Result of Negligence?

If you think medical malpractice may be the cause of your child’s cerebral palsy, you might consider seeking legal help. The Cerebral Palsy Family Lawyers at Janet, Janet & Suggs have consulted with over 30,000 families nationwide. We call upon our legal and medical experience to uncover the truth and recover the compensation families deserve. If your child suffered from medical malpractice that led to cerebral palsy, contact us today for a free, no-obligation consultation.



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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