Cerebral palsy is a movement disorder, most often caused by damage that occurs to the developing brain before birth.

If your child is facing a cerebral palsy diagnosis, you want care from an experienced team of experts you can trust. Children’s Health experts at University of Missouri Health Care Children’s Hospital are here to provide the care your child deserves. 

Our specialists evaluate your child and craft an individualized treatment plan. We work with you, your child and your family through every step of the care process to answer questions you may have and to provide support. 

MU Health Care Children’s Hospital’s multidisciplinary team treats your child with the most comprehensive treatment available. 

Specialists you and your child may see include:

Symptoms of cerebral palsy symptoms

Symptoms usually appear during infancy or the child’s preschool years and may include:

  • Ataxia (no muscle control)
  • Excessive drooling or problems with swallowing
  • Favoring one side of the body when moving arms or legs
  • Muscles that are too stiff or too floppy
  • Rigidity (stiff muscles with normal reflexes)
  • Spasticity (stiff muscles and exaggerated reflexes)
  • Tremors (involuntary movements)
  • Trouble performing precise movements, like picking up a crayon or spoon

Children with cerebral palsy may also have other neurological problems, such as:

  • Abnormal touch or pain perceptions
  • Diseases of the mouth
  • Intellectual disabilities
  • Mental health or developmental conditions
  • Seizures
  • Trouble seeing or hearing
  • Urinary incontinence (inability to control urine when age appropriate)

Diagnosing cerebral palsy

To make an accurate diagnosis, your child’s pediatrician or primary care doctor may recommend one or more of the following tests:

  • Complete physical exam. The doctor conducts a full physical exam, evaluating your child’s signs and symptoms related to cerebral palsy. A full medical history is collected about your child and your immediate family.
  • Electroencephalogram (EEG). If your child has had seizures, the doctor may recommend an EEG to assess whether he or she has epilepsy, a condition that commonly occurs alongside cerebral palsy. During this test, electrodes are attached to your child’s head so the machine can gather data about brain activity.
  • Laboratory tests. Your child’s doctor may order lab tests to check for genetic mutations or metabolic problems.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). This type of brain scan uses detailed 3D images to assess whether your child has any lesions or abnormalities on the brain. Although painless, this test is noisy and takes about an hour. Your child will likely be given a mild sedative to help him or her relax.

If the doctor diagnoses your child with cerebral palsy, he or she will likely refer your child to a pediatric neurologist, a doctor that specializes in treating children with disorders of the brain and nervous system. 

Depending on your child’s other symptoms, you may see other specialists for further testing to identify:

  • Hearing problems
  • Intellectual disabilities
  • Movement problems
  • Sight problems
  • Speech delays or problems
  • Other developmental delays

Cerebral palsy treatments

Once your child has been diagnosed with cerebral palsy, our team of specialists works together to devise a customized treatment plan that makes sense for your child’s situation and works for your family. 

Your child’s neurologist may recommend one or a combination of these treatments:

  • Medication management. Regular medications help kids gain more control of their muscles, reduce pain and lessen complications related to spasticity and other symptoms of the condition.
  • Occupational therapy. Working with an occupational therapist helps your child be more independent as he or she participates in daily activities and routines in the home, school and your community.
  • Physical therapy. Working with a physical therapist at MU Health Care Children’s Hospital can help your child improve his or her strength, flexibility, balance, motor development and mobility. You and your family will also work with the physical therapist to understand how to best help your child around your home, school and other aspects of everyday life.
  • Speech-language therapy. Some children with cerebral palsy have difficulty learning to speak and use language. A speech-language pathologist can help your child communicate better, whether that is using spoken language, sign language or a communication device like a computer and voice synthesizer.