What is Ataxic Quadriplegic Cerebral Palsy?

Ataxic quadriplegic cerebral palsy is a relatively rare form of CP in which an individual with ataxic CP experiences partial or full paralysis in all four limbs. Ataxic cerebral palsy affects about 5 to 10% of people with CP and stems from brain damage to the cerebellum. The result is a lack of coordination, depth perception, and balance. Spastic quadriplegic CP not only affects all four arms and legs but also the trunk and face. Nerve damage is common, and some patients may have difficulty eating and breathing due to a lack of muscle control.

Quadriplegic CP can be referred to as quadriplegia or quadriparesis. Those with quadriparesis experience a loss of function in limbs, while those with quadriplegia are fully paralyzed. Children with quadriparesis may retain sufficient arm or leg control to perform certain functions. Those with quadriplegia have no control over their limbs due to the partial or total paralysis.

Causes of Ataxic Quadriplegic Cerebral Palsy

Ataxic cerebral palsy results from an injury to the brain’s cerebellum before, during, or shortly after birth. Spastic quadriplegia, a different type of cerebral palsy, is typically caused by disruptions in brain development or brain damage prior to birth. Oxygen deprivation during delivery, or neonatal asphyxia, is also a common cause of cerebral palsy.

Maternal infections, such as high-grade fevers or rubella, experienced during pregnancy can make a baby more susceptible to CP. Low birth-weight babies, preemies, and multiples are also at greater risk. Depending on which portions of the brain are affected, mixed forms of cerebral palsy are possible, including ataxic quadriplegic CP.


Generally, a physician won’t diagnose cerebral palsy until a child is between the age of 18 to 24 months. By this point, it’s easier to identify any issues with normal developmental milestones based on motor functions. For example, a child who can’t reach for toys by 4 months, sit by 7 months, or walk by 14 months isn’t hitting those important milestones and should be evaluated. Many doctors use the “wait and see” approach, in which they carefully monitor the child’s developmental process. They may also perform a developmental screening.

Parents may not even suspect cerebral palsy until their baby’s motor skills fail to develop normally. Unfortunately, even with early suspicions, many children aren’t diagnosed with CP until doctors can make a confident diagnosis. Even so, early assessments are essential to help a child meet as many development milestones as possible, even if they come later than other children.

A baby with quadriplegic CP, however, may be diagnosed earlier since it’s easier to identify limb paralysis. Many physicians use a multi-level categorization technique called the Gross Motor Classification System (GMCS) to better characterize and understand a child’s weaknesses and physical abilities.

The GMCS consists of five levels to better describe a child’s cerebral palsy:

  1. Level I: Functional gross motor skills are present, and the child can move independently, though they struggle with coordination, speed, and balance.
  2. Level II: The child may need assistance on inclined or uneven surfaces, but can otherwise move independently.
  3. Level III: The child requires mobility aids and may need a wheelchair in certain circumstances.
  4. Level IV: The child requires significant assistance to get around. They may need a powered wheelchair or another form of adaptive equipment.
  5. Level V: The child experiences severe limitations that impair all forms of movement, resulting in a dependency on caregivers and adaptive equipment.

Most individuals with ataxic quadriplegic cerebral palsy fall under Level V due to their paralysis.

Treatments for Ataxic Quadriplegic Cerebral Palsy

Physical and occupational therapies are a primary focus for cerebral palsy patients because therapy can help increase and retain some range of motion. In those with quadriplegia, it’s important to retain movement in the head and neck as well as address any eating and breathing complications.

Nutritional therapy is also important. Since children with quadriplegic CP often have issues eating, proper nutrition is crucial to their overall growth and development.

Surgical Considerations

Surgery is a last resort for most forms of cerebral palsy. For those with ataxic quadriplegic CP, surgery can correct or improve spinal deformities, dislocated muscles, or stiff, shortened muscles. Unfortunately, there isn’t a surgery that can reverse paralysis for CP patients.

The Child with Ataxic Quadriplegic Cerebral Palsy

Since ataxic quadriplegic CP is a mixed form of cerebral palsy, it’s important to understand the many symptoms and medical issues associated with each type. These include:

  • Breathing problems
  • Cognitive issues
  • Hearing problems
  • Seizures
  • Difficulties swallowing and eating
  • Limb paralysis
  • Drooling and facial grimaces
  • Vision problems such as cortical blindness and amblyopia (lazy eye)

Ataxic quadriplegic cerebral palsy is a challenging condition to live with, and it can take an emotional and financial toll on a family—especially when medical malpractice is to blame. The Cerebral Palsy Family Lawyers at Janet, Janet & Suggs, LLC have helped over 30,000 families across the country determine whether they had a case. Contact us today, and let us help your family seek justice.



Giles Manley
Reviewed by:
Giles H. Manley, M.D., J.D., F.A.C.O.G. | CPFN Medical Advisor
Board-Certified OBGYN | Medical Malpractice Attorney

Dr. Manley has delivered over 2,000 babies and uses his wealth of medical knowledge to uncover medical errors that were missed by others (keep in mind most CP cases involve errors committed at or around the time of birth). READ FULL BIO

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