How is Cerebral Palsy Diagnosed?


Children are usually diagnosed with cerebral palsy between the age of 6 to 12 months old. Parents notice developmental delays, or their children fail to meet certain milestones such as crawling, rolling over, sitting up, and walking. Children might have abnormal muscle tone, or certain parts of their body seem too stiff or limp, and their posture may look awkward.

If, after examining the child a pediatrician believes they may have cerebral palsy, the doctor will suggest brain imaging tests be performed to verify this diagnosis. A pediatric neurologist treats children with brain and nervous system disorders. In addition, children with cerebral palsy will meet with pediatric rehabilitation and child development specialists who are experienced in this area.

Some of the brain imaging tests that will be performed to diagnose cerebral palsy are:

  • MRI (magnetic resonance imaging). An MRI uses radio waves and a magnetic field to create vivid, 3D images of the brain. The MRI can view lesions or abnormalities in a child's brain. This is a painless test; however, it is noisy and could frighten a child. Therefore, they usually administer a mild sedative or a small amount of general anesthesia to the child beforehand to avoid fright-problems during the process.
  • Cranial ultrasound. This test is usually performed on infants. It uses high-frequency sound waves to create images of the brain. Though the test is not as precise as the MRI, it does provide a useful initial assessment of the child's brain.
  • Electroencephalogram (EEG). An EEG attaches electrodes to the child's scalp. The electrical activity of the brain is recorded. This test can detect seizures that result from epilepsy.
  • Laboratory tests. Several blood tests, along with urine and skin samples, are used to screen for genetic or metabolic abnormalities.

Once a diagnosis of cerebral palsy is made, other tests will be scheduled to further identify problems with:

  • Vision
  • Hearing
  • Speech
  • Intelligence
  • Development
  • Movement
  • Other medical conditions common to people with cerebral palsy

Cerebral palsy is classified according to the type of movement disorders a child experiences. The most common types of cerebral palsy are spastic, dyskinetic, and ataxic. Each type of cerebral palsy affects different muscles, coordination, and balance. A rating scale, the Gross Motor Function Classification System, is used to determine the severity of mobility, posture, and balance of a person with cerebral palsy and to decide the best course of treatment.

How is Cerebral Palsy in Children Treated?


There is no cure for cerebral palsy, but there are treatments that can improve a person's mobility and daily functioning. Early intervention for cerebral palsy will improve a child's difficulties.

A person with cerebral palsy requires medical and physical treatments throughout their lifetime. Treatments for cerebral palsy include medication, physical therapy, and possibly surgical procedures. Treatments are tailored to each patient's specific needs; the severity of the cerebral palsy, the child's age, and their general health are important components in finding the right treatment.

Physical therapy

Exercises designed to strengthen a child's muscles can help with their flexibility, balance, fine motor skills, and mobility. Parents are also educated on the proper way to care for a child with cerebral palsy such as their bathing and feeding needs. Physical therapists provide information and exercises that can be used at home further to increase a child's muscle strength and mobility.

Physical and occupational therapy focuses on building strength in a child's head, neck, and trunk. They teach the child how to roll and grasp. Some therapists instruct on the use of a wheelchair. Braces, splints, or other mobility devices may be suggested to improve walking and help keep the muscles from becoming rigid.

Occupational therapy & assistive devices

Occupational therapists teach children how to be independent at home, in school, and the future. Routine daily activities are taught. Mobility devices such as walkers, canes, standing and seating systems, and electric wheelchairs are incorporated into a child's daily life depending on the severity of their condition.

  • Muscle & nerve injections. Medications are used to relax the muscles, reduce the spasticity, and improve the mobility of a patient. Injections are usually administered every three to six months.
  • Oral muscle relaxants. Drugs such as baclofen, tizanidine, diazepam, or dantrolene are used to relax the muscles. Baclofen is delivered through a pump that is implanted under the skin of the abdomen and injected directly into the spinal fluid through a thin tube.
  • Medications to reduce drooling. Botulinum toxin (commonly known as Botox®, Dysport®, Xeomin®, or Myobloc®) can be injected into the salivary glands to reduce drooling.



  • Cerebral palsy is usually caused by brain damage that occurs while the baby is still in the womb or shortly after birth. Reduced blood flow or oxygen supply to the developing brain.
  • An infection from the mother, such as rubella, chickenpox, or toxoplasmosis, is known to cause birth defects.
  • A baby that encounters a stroke while in the womb causing either a brain bleed or lack of blood to the brain can cause cerebral palsy.
  • An injury to the baby's head while in the womb could cause cerebral palsy.

Cerebral palsy does not usually get worse over time; however, symptoms continue to change during a person's life. People with cerebral palsy experience problems with mobility and posture during their lifetime.

Cerebral palsy is a neurological disorder caused by permanent damage to areas of the brain that control muscle coordination, movement, and balance. Cerebral palsy refers to a group of neurological disorders that fall into this category.

There is no cure for cerebral palsy. Early intervention and lifetime treatments can significantly improve the mobility of a person affected by this condition.

Complications during pregnancy, such as a detached placenta, uterine rupture, or problems with the umbilical cord during birth, can all disrupt the oxygen flow to a baby's developing brain, resulting in cerebral palsy.

Cerebral palsy is caused by brain damage to the cerebral cortex area of the brain's outer layer. This section of the brain controls the muscles responsible for movement. During the developmental stage in the womb, abnormalities can form damaging this area of the brain.

Get Care

Trust NewYork-Presbyterian for Cerebral Palsy Treatment

NewYork-Presbyterian understands the confusion and disappointment a parent feels when discovering their child is affected by cerebral palsy. Our compassionate and experienced pediatric neurologists and neurosurgeons are leading the way with new treatments for cerebral palsy designed to alleviate some of the complications that come along with this condition.

NewYork-Presbyterian, in collaboration with the astute neurosurgeons and pediatric neurologists from Columbia University and Weill Cornell Medicine, has created the most comprehensive brain and spine care available for children and adults.

Know the signs and symptoms of cerebral palsy and make an appointment for a consultation at one of our state-of-the-art pediatric neurology centers.