Birth Injury Web

Diagnosis of Cerebral Palsy

Diagnosing cerebral palsy (CP) early is important to the health of the child and the family. To diagnose CP usually involves three steps:

  • Developmental Monitoring
  • Developmental ScreeningDevelopmental and Medical Evaluations

CP generally is diagnosed during the first or second year after birth. But if a child’s symptoms are mild, it is sometimes difficult to make a diagnosis until the child is a few years older.


Developmental Monitoring

Developmental monitoring (also called developmental surveillance) involves tracking a child’s growth and development. During the office visits with your pediatrician, the doctor will examine the baby, watch to see how they move, and ask parents if they have any concerns about their child’s development. If any concerns are raised about the child’s development then a developmental screening test should be given as quickly as possible.

Developmental Screening

A developmental screening is a short test designed to see if the child has any specific developmental delays. Some developmental screening tests are interviews or questionnaires completed by parents. Others are tests that the doctor administers to the child.

When a child is nine months old, issues involving movement can usually be recognized. However, mild movement delays that were not identified at the 9-month screening may be easier to recognize when the child is 18 months old. And by the time the child is two and a half years old, most movement delays can be identified.

If the results of the screening test identifies any areas of concern, then the doctor will make referrals for developmental and medical evaluations and early interventions.

Developmental and Medical Evaluations

The goal of a developmental and medical evaluation is to diagnose the specific disability that affects a child. To evaluate movement or motor delays, the doctor will examine the child’s motor skills, muscle tone, posture, reflexes and will rule out other disorders that may cause similar problems. Because many children with CP also have other developmental conditions such as intellectual disability, seizures, and vision, hearing, or speech problems, the doctor will evaluate the child to identify if these disorders exist.

The developmental and medical evaluation can be performed by the primary care doctor or by a specialists such as: developmental pediatricians, neurodevelopment pediatricians, child neurologists, pediatric physiatrists, and pediatric rehabilitation doctors.

Clinical tests may also be done to better understand the cause of a child’s CP. These tests may include: brain imaging tests, such as x-ray computed tomography (CT scan) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). An electroencephalogram (EEG), genetic testing, or metabolic testing, or a combination of these, also might be done.

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