Cerebral Palsy

If your child is diagnosed with cerebral palsy, talk to your child's primary care provider -- your pediatrician or family medicine physician. Your primary care provider will help coordinate the services that your child needs for the best care possible from a team of specialists.

MaineHealth offers specialists in areas like pediatric orthopedics and pediatric neurology to make sure your child has access to the right treatments. Your primary care provider can make those referrals.

What is cerebral palsy?

Cerebral palsy is a disorder that can affect movement, posture and balance.  Cerebral palsy usually shows up in the first few years of life and does not get worse over time. There are three types of cerebral palsy:

  • Spastic: causes stiff muscles

  • Athetoid: causes uncontrolled movements

  • Ataxic:  causes problems with balance and coordination

What causes cerebral palsy?

Some babies are born with cerebral palsy and some get it after they are born.  If a baby is born with cerebral palsy, it’s usually caused by problems during pregnancy like an infection or a genetic disorder.  If a child gets cerebral palsy after birth, it may be the result of brain damage from things like lead poisoning, head trauma or bacterial meningitis.

What are the signs and symptoms of cerebral palsy?

Cerebral palsy can affect each person in different ways, so the signs are not the same for everyone. The main sign that points to cerebral palsy is a delay in reaching normal milestones in development like sitting up, standing or rolling over. The following are other signs that signal cerebral palsy:

For babies under 6 months:

  • Baby feels stiff

  • Baby’s head falls back when picked up from lying down

  • Baby’s back overextends when being held

  • Baby’s legs get stiff when picked up and pushes away from you

For babies older than 6 months:

  • Baby doesn’t roll over in either direction

  • Baby has trouble bringing hands to the mouth

  • Baby reaches for things with only one hand and keeps the other hand in a fist

For babies older than 10 months:

  • Baby scoots around instead of crawling on all fours

  • If the baby does crawl, it is in a lopsided way that leaves one hand and leg dragging

Diagnosing cerebral palsy

How is cerebral palsy diagnosed?

Diagnosing cerebral palsy early is the best way to make sure your child can get the treatment he or she needs.  It usually happens in three steps:

Developmental monitoring

  • Your doctor checks on growth and development over time.

  • If anything seems unusual, a screening test is the next step.

Developmental screening

  • A short test to see if your child has delays in movement

Developmental and medical evaluation

  • A doctor will look at your child’s muscle tone, reflexes, posture and movement

  • The doctor will try to diagnose the type of cerebral palsy or try to rule out other disorders that might cause similar symptoms.

Treatment for cerebral palsy

How is cerebral palsy treated?

There is no cure for cerebral palsy but working with a team of health care providers can make an impact on quality of life.

Common treatments include:

  • Surgery

  • Occupational therapy

  • Speech therapy

  • Medicine

  • Braces or a wheelchair

  • Physical therapy

Your child might work with many different providers to get the care he or she needs. Some of these providers include:

  • Social worker

  • Physical therapist

  • Occupational therapist

  • Speech and language pathologist

  • Orthopedic surgeon

  • Pediatrician

  • Neurologist

Team approach to care

Specialized services, compassionate care

MaineHealth offers specialized pediatric neurology and orthopedics departments through the Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital. Many of our member hospitals can offer physical and occupational therapy for children with cerebral palsy.

Primary care is your first stop for care

Whether you choose a pediatrician for the kids and an internal medicine doc for the adults -- or opt for a family medicine doctor to care for the entire family -- MaineHealth has the primary care providers and services to meet your needs.
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