The First Signs And Symptoms Of Cerebral Palsy

Do you think your child might have Cerebral Palsy and want to know what to look for?  Recognizing the first signs and symptoms of Cerebral Palsy is the first step in getting your child the proper help and care they need. Don’t let your questions or concerns go unanswered. Talk to a doctor right away if you suspect your child might have Cerebral Palsy. A doctor can point you on the right path for an Early Intervention program so your child can lead a better and more fulfilled life. When treatment is not started early, it can limit your child’s recovery.

Signs & Symptoms

Cerebral Palsy affects people differently. So signs and symptoms vary in each person.  Some signs and symptoms are not visible at birth. They may start to show up within the first three to five years of a child’s life as they grow and develop.  The main effects and signs of Cerebral Palsy is impairment of muscle tone, gross and fine motor functions, balance, control, coordination, reflexes and posture. Others are oral motor dysfunction, such as swallowing and feeding difficulties, speech impairment and poor facial muscle tone. Some other conditions that occur often in people with Cerebral Palsy are sensory impairment, seizures, and learning disabilities.

Muscle Tone

The most noticeable sign of Cerebral Palsy is impairment of muscle tone. Proper muscle tone allows your child’s limbs to bed, enables them to sit, stand and have good posture without your help or assistance. The most common muscle deformities found in people with Cerebral Palsy are called Hypotonia and Hypertonia. 

Hypotonia – decreased muscle tone or tension (flaccid, relaxed, or floppy limbs)

Hypertonia – increased muscle tone or tension (stiff or rigid limbs)

Fine Motor Skills

Fine motor skills are the coordination of small muscles working together in movements.  An example of fine motor skills at work would be using your hands and fingers to pick up an object. Can your child pick up toys or turn the page in their favorite story book?


One of the things that Cerebral Palsy hinders with is posture and balance. Signs of something being wrong in their posture would not show up until they begin to sit up and move around. One of the indicators that would show up would be something called Asymmetrical posture. This is where the right and left limbs do not mirror each other. An example of this in children with Cerebral Palsy is where one leg will bend inward at the hip and the other one will outward.

Oral Motor Function

When a child has difficulty in using their tongue, lips and jaw, it indicates impaired oral motor function. This is present in 90% of preschool-aged children diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy.  A child needs to have their oral motor functions working properly for speech, safe swallowing and consuming food.

Signs of oral motor function impairment include, but are not limited to difficulty with:

•             Speaking

•             Swallowing

•             Feeding/chewing

•             Over drooling


The most obvious early sign of Cerebral Palsy is developmental delay and not reaching milestones. Every parent looks forward to watching their child grow up. One of the exciting parts of being a parent is seeing your child reach new milestones in their life.  Milestones are actions or events marking a significant change or stage in development.  Milestone examples would be having your child take their first step, say their first word all the way to graduating college.

How your child learns, interacts, moves, plays and speaks are key insights on how they are doing in their development. Is your child reaching the correct milestones on time?  Parents may notice that their child is not developing at the same rate that other children are. 

Parents may grow concerned when other children are playing peek-a-boo or taking their first steps, when their child isn’t.  You may notice that your child isn’t reaching for toys or sitting up by themselves when they should be at that stage. A parent may think they are just worrying over nothing or being hyper critical but something could be very wrong.

Parents are the first ones to notice when a child is delayed in reaching skills at a predicted time. Developmental delay occurs when a child has not reached or developed a certain skill at the correct time on the normal developmental timeline.

Talk to your doctor about developmental milestones and the correct timeline for each one to occur. Here is a list of normal milestones that babies and one year olds should be able to reach by their age group. Everyone is different and nobody is perfect, but these milestones will you give you a look into seeing if your child is on the right track or if something is wrong.

Milestones For Babies

  • Holds head up when laying on stomach or in seated position, unsupported

  • Able to roll over from stomach to back

  • Reaches for toys

  • Recognizes familiar people and things at a distance

  • Babbles for expression and copies sounds they hear

  • Uses legs to push down when feet are placed on a surface

Milestones For 1 Year Old

  • Sits in sitting position without assistance

  • Pulls self-up to stand

  • Takes steps without holding on

  • Crawls without limitation

  • Uses gestures such as head shaking for no or waves goodbye

  • Begins to use objects correctly (brushing of hair, drinking from cup)

  • Speaks simple words


What To Do

Talk With A Doctor

Now that you know what to look out for, what can you do? If you feel that your child is showing some of the first signs or symptoms of Cerebral Palsy, request that your doctor do an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) on your child. An MRI uses a combination of magnetic fields and radio waves to capture an image of the brain or spine. This scan of the brain is thought to define brain structure and abnormality more accurately than CT Scans or ultrasounds.

Early Intervention

 Early Intervention is when treatments and therapies are performed early on to help limit the negative impact Cerebral Palsy has on a child. Early Intervention will provide your child the opportunity to receive the help they need so they can be the best they can be. The treatments can range from surgeries, physical therapy to working with a speech therapist or a special education professional.


Today there is no cure for Cerebral Palsy.  Children need your love and support.  We offer a wide variety of resources to help those with Cerebral Palsy and their loved ones. If you feel that your child might have Cerebral Palsy, we offer a free Cerebral Palsy Diagnosis Guide. This guide has information on the tests, process, medical team and everything you need to know about confirming or ruling out the diagnosis of Cerebral Palsy. Call MyChild™ at (800) 692-4453 and ask for MyChild™ Kit No. 131 –The Cerebral Palsy Diagnosis Guide.