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

What is Athetoid Cerebral Palsy, and What Are its Classifications?

Athetoid cerebral palsy, also known as dyskinetic cerebral palsy, is a neurological disorder causing a variety of movement disorders and resulting in involuntary, uncontrolled movements.

Athetoid cerebral palsy affects about 10% of children diagnosed with a form of CP. It often affects muscle tone and can result in either hypertonia, which is unusually high muscle tone, or hypotonia, which is unusually low muscle tone. While hypertonia tends to cause stiffness and tension, hypotonia tends to result in floppiness.

There are various classifications of athetoid CP:

  • Quadriplegia. This affects all four limbs and the torso.
  • Triplegia. This is confined to three limbs.
  • Hemiplegia. This affects only one side of the body.
  • Diplegia. This affects the lower extremities, but not the upper ones.

How Does Athetoid Cerebral Palsy Affect the Body?

Children with athetoid cerebral palsy have trouble holding themselves in an upright, steady position for sitting or walking. This type of CP also typically involves random, involuntary movements of the face, arms, and upper body. For some children with athetoid cerebral palsy, it takes a considerable amount of work and concentration to get their hand to a certain spot, such as to scratch their nose or reach for a cup. Individuals with this disorder may appear to be in constant motion and often have speech difficulties. Because of their mixed tone and trouble keeping a position, they may not be able to hold onto things, like a toothbrush, fork, or pencil.

The effects of various cerebral injuries depend on the location and severity of the damage. Effects can range from complete loss of a function to compromised and diminished function. The disease is usually characterized by involuntary writhing movements; frequent, abrupt, jerky, and involuntary gross motor movements; and possible head and torso involvement.

Children with athetoid CP often experience various involuntary movements, such as:

  • Tremors
  • Chorea
  • Ballism
  • Myoclonus
  • Tics
  • Dystonias

What Causes Athetoid CP?

Cerebral palsy, generally, can result from either abnormal brain development or a sometimes-preventable injury to the brain during pregnancy or at birth. Athetoid CP is typically caused by damage to either the basal ganglia or the cerebellum. The basal ganglia are located within the cerebral cortex and coordinate voluntary movements, along with regulating thinking and learning. The cerebellum helps regulate coordination and movement precision, which are both essential for balance and fine motor skills.

How is Athetoid CP 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, in general, 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 athetoid cerebral palsy may not be evident until a child is expected to achieve certain developmental milestones. Parents are often the first to suspect that their baby’s motor skills are not developing normally and should contact their physician with any concerns since they can help distinguish normal variation in development from a developmental disorder. Early assessment and intervention are vital in helping a child with this disorder meet developmental milestones.

What are Some Potential Complications of Athetoid CP?

Many children may be only mildly inconvenienced with the related movement disorders and neuromuscular involvement, while others may face years of therapies, medications, and possibly surgeries to manage and reduce the consequences of athetoid cerebral palsy. Some may be at increased risk for musculoskeletal complications, such as contractures and scoliosis, due to poor torso control in addition to compromised oral motor function resulting in speech and feeding challenges.

Many individuals with cerebral palsy have no additional medical disorders. However, depending on the nature of the cerebral injury, children with athetoid cerebral palsy may exhibit developmental delays or learning disabilities. Many may have learning challenges due to the distraction the neuromuscular disorder causes, and the impact it would have on a child’s ability to focus and retain information.

Some may also experience seizures, impaired intellectual development, oral motor skill dysfunction, and vision and hearing impairment. Coping with these disabilities may be even more of a challenge than coping with the motor impairments of athetoid cerebral palsy.

What Treatments Are Available?

Medications can be prescribed to administer orally or via a feeding tube that can help reduce spasticity and the severity of the related movement disorders. They include baclofen, diazepam, or others your physician may consider beneficial. Many medications for athetoid therapy are prescribed to ease secondary symptoms of the disease, such as anticonvulsants to reduce seizures.

Additionally, therapy and supportive treatments may be necessary and can help many individuals improve their motor skills and ability to function and communicate with the world. Physical therapy for athetoid CP typically focuses on improving overall mobility, while occupational therapy can help enhance your child’s ability to play and learn independently.

Early childhood intervention programs are vital in identifying, addressing, and managing the developmental and neuromuscular issues that some children may experience with this disorder. Untreated, a child with moderate to severe athetoid cerebral palsy can suffer severe developmental delays and be at risk for crippling neuromuscular conditions.

Was Your Child’s CP a Result of Negligence?

While many of the causes of congenital CP are not preventable, it is estimated that up to 20% of cases occur due to the negligence of one or more healthcare providers. 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, LLC 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.

Was Your Child's CP Preventable?