Diagnosing cerebral palsy can be difficult. Often, parents notice something wrong before doctors or nurses do. Sometimes, it’s the other way round. Either way, it takes patience and acceptance to deal with it.
You may be worried about cerebral palsy if your child is slow to develop physical skills or has tight or floppy muscles or an unusual posture. For example, most children are walking by 12 to 18 months, and most children speak in simple sentences by the time they are 2.
If you think your child is showing some of the symptoms of cerebral palsy, see your early childhood nurse or doctor.
Your general practitioner might consider a diagnosis of cerebral palsy based on your child’s symptoms and examination. The doctor may refer you to a paediatrician.
Your doctor will talk to you and your child, and examine them physically, as well as testing hearing, vision and more.
Your doctor may arrange tests that involve imaging of the brain, such as ultrasound, CT scan, or MRI. These tests help to distinguish between cerebral palsy and other possible causes. You may have a referral for blood tests to exclude other causes of muscle problems. If your child has other associated conditions, such as epilepsy there may be another range of tests such as EEG (brain activity test).
It may take repeated tests and visits to the doctor to arrive at a definitive diagnosis of cerebral palsy. Particularly in mild cases, diagnoses may take months or even years.
Although this can be very frustrating, the time is needed. It’s important to get the diagnosis right. Also, the signs and symptoms of cerebral palsy don’t change with time. It may be important to wait and see whether things get better or worse, in which case it’s probably a different condition.
Last reviewed: November 2016