A diagnosis of cerebral palsy in infants and children is usually made over a period of time. During this time, the development of the infant and child is closely observed so a definitive diagnosis can be made. Cerebral palsy is a medical condition caused by brain damage.
Usually, parents will notice that their infant is not reaching certain milestones in their development. Often, the baby will not suck properly and is not alert. Their little arms and legs may tremble, and sometimes, the whole body may seize up. The infant may seem highly irritable and abnormally fussy compared to others the same age.
As the baby develops, other indications may surface, usually in the muscles and posture. The child may hold his or her hand in tight fists, for example. The child may crawl and walk later than other children, as well as talk.
If a baby is slow to develop, physicians will make sure first that the child does not suffer from some other condition, such as muscular dystrophy or a tumor. Since cerebral palsy does not worsen, physicians will use that to make a determination.
Tests for the condition include computed tomography and magnetic resonance imaging – tests that show images of the brain so that the doctor can view damaged areas. Blood tests and an ultrasound of the brain may also be ordered. The child might also take intelligence tests depending on the age. Usually, a definitive diagnosis will not be made until the child is 4 or 5 years old.
If you suspect your child may have cerebral palsy, discuss the issue with the pediatrician. The pediatrician can discuss the diagnostic process and will ask the appropriate questions. The mother will probably need to think carefully about her pregnancy because cerebral palsy usually occurs while the baby is in the womb.