Symptoms of Cerebral Palsy are more easily detected when the condition is severe. Often
the signs of cerebral palsy (CP) may not be noticed until a child is between 1 and 3 years of age. This is due to the way children develop and mature. Health professionals and parents may not recognize that a baby's movements are irregular until they become more pronounced as a child grows. These babies and young children may retain newborn reflexes and fail to reach age-appropriate developmental milestones. Parents and care givers are usually the first to notice that a baby has developmental delays that may be early signs of cerebral palsy
When cerebral palsy is severe, signs are often noticed at birth or shortly thereafter. However, some early signs of severe cerebral palsy vary according to the specific type present.
Common signs of cerebral palsy that may be noticed shortly after birth include:
- Problems sucking and swallowing.
- A weak or shrill cry.
- Unusual positions. Often the body is either very relaxed and floppy or very stiff. When held, babies may arch their backs and extend their arms and legs. These postures are different from and more extreme than those that sometimes occur in babies with colic.
- A change in muscle tone, for example going from one extreme to the other - stiff to floppy.
- One side of the body moves better than the other side.
- Trembling of the arms or legs
Certainly other conditions can cause the behavior described above so it is important to consider other diagnosis such as neurological or genetic disorders .
Abnormal or prolonged reflexes could be a sign of cerebral palsy. The main newborn reflexes include:
- Rooting reflex. When the side of a baby's cheek is touched, the head turns and his or her mouth "reaches" toward it. This usually stays with a child till around the age of 4 months.
- Sucking reflex. A newborn sucks when a nipple or finger is placed in his or her mouth. An inability or difficulty sucking may be sign of developmental delay. This reflex will fade after several months and than the sucking action becomes voluntary.
- Palmar grasp. A newborn grasps a finger that is placed on his or her palm. It appears at birth and starts to disappear at about the age of 5-6 months.
- Walking reflex. Although children of this age can't support their own weight with their legs, whenever the soles of their feet touch a flat surface you'll see that they will place one foot in front of the other and "walk". This automatic response is also present at birth, and it disappears around 2 months and then reappears as a voluntary behavior at around a year old. This reflex is also referred to as the stepping reflex
- Startle (Moro) reflex. A startled newborn throws out his or her arms and spreads the fingers. It is present at birth, but will typically begin to disappear around 2 months of age.
- Gallant response. A newborn stroked on one side of the spinal column from the neck down to the bottom will flip his or her bottom to the same side (when held on the belly so the back is facing up). This reflex should fade between the ages of four to six months.
- Tonic neck reflex. When you turn a newborn's head to one side, the corresponding arm and leg extend. The opposite arm and leg flex. This is sometimes called the "fencing position." It is present at birth and dwindles away around the age of 4 months old.