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Types of Cerebral Palsy

Teacher and Boy with Cerebral Palsy Painting Together

Cerebral palsy affects up to 4 out of 1000 children worldwide, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC). It is the most common cause of childhood motor disabilities. When we talk about cerebral palsy, we tend to do so as if all CP is the same, but it is not. There are several types of cerebral palsy. What they all have in common is that they are brain (cerebral) disorders that affect muscle movement. If someone you love is affected by cerebral palsy, you might find it helpful to understand something about the various types of cerebral palsy.

As you are probably already aware, the group of disorders that make up cerebral palsy vary in severity. One person might be unable to walk or speak, and may have problems with vision or hearing as well. Another might have barely noticeable problems with gait (walking) or speech. The nature and severity of a person’s CP has to do with what part of their brain was injured, and how badly. Brain injuries leading to CP may happen during pregnancy, such as a maternal infection, or during birth, such as oxygen deprivation to the baby. While most children with CP are born with the disorder, it may not be immediately apparent. By the time a child reaches preschool age, parents may have noticed developmental delays or deficits that suggest CP.

Spastic Cerebral Palsy

The most common type of CP is spastic cerebral palsy, which affects 70-80% of people with the disorder. Spastic cerebral palsy primarily affects muscle groups, but may cause other problems as well, such as vision or hearing problems, seizure disorders, cognitive and learning difficulties, and speech problems.

Spastic cerebral palsy is usually caused by brain damage before birth or as the result of a birth injury, or less commonly, early in life. This brain damage impacts muscle control and coordination, particularly in arms and legs. The muscle spasms common with this type of CP give it its name.

Symptoms of spastic cerebral palsy may include:

  • Frequent muscle spasms and contractions
  • Involuntary limb movement
  • Poor coordination and muscle control
  • Limited ability to stretch limbs
  • Abnormal, “scissoring” walking gait
  • Flexion, or bending, of fingers, wrists, and elbows
  • Muscle weakness or paralysis

Hypotonic Cerebral Palsy

Hypotonic cerebral palsy is marked by low muscle tone. People with this form of the disorder may have a “floppy” appearance.  The opposite of spastic, or hypertonic, CP, children with this form of the disorder have muscles that are too relaxed rather than too tense. Parents often learn that their children have hypotonic CP when they notice that they are not reaching developmental milestones. While hypotonic CP may look like muscle weakness, it is, in fact, a lack of stability making movement difficult.

Like other forms of CP, hypotonic CP is caused by brain damage or injury. For children with hypotonic CP, the damage is often located in the cerebellum.

Symptoms of hypotonic cerebral palsy include:

  • Difficulty standing or sitting without help
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Poor head control
  • Difficulties with balance
  • Fatigue
  • Delays in development of gross and fine motor skills
  • Problems with mobility

Dyskinetic Cerebral Palsy

Children with dyskinetic cerebral palsy have movements that are involuntary, and particularly noticeable when they are trying to move. The appearance of the involuntary movements may vary. Twisting, repetitive movements are known as dystonia; “dance-like” movements are called chorea, and slower, “stormy” ones are called athetosis.

Damage to the basal ganglia in the brain is the cause of dyskinetic CP. The type of dyskinesia a child experiences depends on which structures are damaged. The basal ganglia have been described as the brain’s “switchboard” for regulation of voluntary movement.

While dyskinetic CP primarily affects the hands, arms, and legs, it may also affect the face and tongue, causing difficulties with speech and swallowing.

Ataxic Cerebral Palsy

The least common of the types of cerebral palsy, ataxic CP is marked by coordination and balance problems, as well as disorganized or “jerky” voluntary muscle movements. Children with ataxic CP may struggle with fine motor functions, including grasping objects.

Some people have “mixed” CP, with components of more than one of the types of cerebral palsy described above. Most commonly, people with mixed CP have a combination of symptoms of spastic and dyskinetic CP.

More Questions About Types of Cerebral Palsy?

Cerebral palsy is a lifelong condition with many options for treatment, but no cure. Depending on the severity and type of CP, a child may need extensive (and expensive) therapy and support. If you suspect your child has CP, or if you believe your child’s CP was caused by a birth injury, you should consider speaking with an experienced medical malpractice attorney. You may have a claim for medical malpractice that could help you pay for your child’s care and treatment.

Unfortunately, you have only a limited period of time under the law in which to file a claim, meaning time is of the essence. We invite you to contact Huegli Fraser to get answers to your questions and discuss your options.

Blog Disclaimer

The information in this blog post is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to be legal advice. You should not make a decision whether or not to contact a qualified medical malpractice attorney based upon the information in this blog post. No attorney-client relationship is formed nor should any such relationship be implied. If you require legal advice, please consult with a competent medical malpractice attorney licensed to practice in your jurisdiction.

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