Cerebral palsy is a neurological condition caused by damage to the brain during, or soon after birth. This damage stops the brain from developing properly during the first few years of a child’s life resulting in developmental issues.
Many parents don’t start suspecting their child has cerebral palsy until they start progressing from newborn, to baby, to toddler, often missing developmental milestones along the way. However, the earliest signs of cerebral palsy can sometimes be spotted from birth.
What causes cerebral palsy?
Common causes of cerebral palsy include:
- Birth asphyxia – oxygen deprivation before, during, or after birth
- Head injury just after birth or during the first few years of an infant’s life
- Infections caught by the infant, such as meningitis
- Infections caught by the mother during pregnancy
- Bleeding in the infant’s brain or neonatal stroke
What are the effects of cerebral palsy?
Cerebral palsy tends to result in problems with movement, muscle tone, coordination, and gait and the severity of symptoms varies from person to person.
Cerebral palsy is a lifelong condition, but fortunately it is non-progressive, meaning it won’t get worse as time goes on (although symptoms may vary throughout a person’s lifetime).
Children with cerebral palsy are also susceptible to other conditions caused by brain damage, including:
- Learning difficulties
- Vision impairment
- Hearing impairment
- Sensory issues, such as hypersensitivity to touch
What are the early signs of cerebral palsy?
Very early signs of cerebral palsy can be spotted from as early as within a few weeks of birth, although children are only usually diagnosed in the first few years of life because the symptoms vary from child to child. Some very early signs include:
- Muscle stiffness or floppiness
- Slow movements
- Muscle spasms
- When held, the child feels like they’re pushing away from you
- When picked up, the child’s legs go stiff or crossed
As the child gets older, further developmental issues may start becoming more apparent, for example:
- The child cannot roll over
- They begin to favour one side of their body, such as only using one hand to reach out
- Difficulty with hand-eye coordination
- Difficulty bringing their hands together
- Poor reflexes
- Swallowing or feeding difficulties
- Poor visual attention
In many cases, cerebral palsy becomes particularly obvious when it causes children to lag behind ‘normal’ childhood development. For example, infants are expected to first start sitting up at around 6 months and start walking by 18 months.
If parents notice any of these symptoms in their child, or are concerned about their child’s development, they should see their GP or health advisor for a referral for a specialist assessment.
Do you need advice about a birth injury resulting in cerebral palsy?
If your child has been diagnosed with cerebral palsy following a birth injury, which you suspect was caused by someone else’s negligence (for example, a medical professional at the delivery), you may be able to claim medical negligence compensation.
Medical negligence claims can be complex. You will always need expert evidence (such as a doctor specializing in cerebral palsy) to support your claim. Therefore, you should always consult a medical negligence solicitor with specialist experience in birth injuries for advice on the merits of your case, to assess how much compensation you could receive if your claim is successful, and to conduct your claim on your behalf.