How is Cerebral Palsy Diagnosed?


How To Get Your Free Initial Consultation

To start an evaluation of your case, please complete the form below. The more information you can provide, the better able we will be to determine if we can help you.

We will review the information and let you know by email shortly if we may be able to handle your matter and what the next steps may be.

*This web site is designed for general information only. The information presented at this site should not be construed to be formal legal advice nor the formation of a lawyer/client relationship.

Parents are often discouraged when they learn that no specific test definitively diagnoses cerebral palsy. Rather, it is a condition diagnosed by eliminating other possible medical issues. Typically, when it is suspected that a child may have cerebral palsy, doctors and specialists will begin an extensive round of tests and evaluations to narrow down the diagnosis. Parents may become frustrated with the process, which can take a long time to provide the answers they need about their child’s condition. 

Why Is It Important To Diagnose Cerebral Palsy? 

There are many reasons that a diagnosis is important. Parents and caregivers need to understand their child’s health status to begin treatment and early intervention of the condition, which can be very helpful when started at a young age. It’s also important because parents need time to find financial and emotional support for the difficult and expensive journey in front of them. Many organizations assist families with a child with cerebral palsy, but there must be a formal diagnosis of the condition for families to qualify for the benefits. Without a diagnosis, there is little help for parents.   

Confirming A Cerebral Palsy Diagnosis 

Arriving at a diagnosis of cerebral palsy takes time, as no test either confirms it or rules it out. If the case is severe, it is easier for doctors to diagnose it, often soon after birth. However, most cerebral palsy cases can take up to two years to diagnose. Worse yet, cerebral palsy may only be diagnosed for children with milder cases once brain development is further along, often when the child is 3 to 5 years old. The average age for diagnosing spastic diplegia (a common form of cerebral palsy) is 18 months. 

Parents are often the first to notice something different about their children. They may find that the child has missed an age-appropriate developmental milestone or may suspect that the child is simply a slow starter and that they will catch up with other children later. While that certainly may be the case, parents need to let their pediatrician know of their concerns so that the child can be evaluated sooner rather than later. 

Because cerebral palsy is diagnosed by eliminating other causes for medical and developmental issues, confirming it involves many steps. The first indicators a doctor is likely to monitor are:

  • When the child reaches growth chart standards for weight and height
  • When the child reaches developmental milestones
  • The reactions of the child’s reflexes
  • Whether the child seems to be able to hear and focus on their caregivers
  • Whether the child’s movement and posture seem normal

The child’s muscle tone, reflexes, posture, coordination, balance, and other factors will be tested over months or even years, as the symptoms of cerebral palsy can take time to develop. If a doctor suspects that cerebral palsy may be present, they may send the child to specialists for additional testing like MRIs, CT scans, or cranial ultrasounds to be able to view images of the brain. These tests may allow doctors to diagnose cerebral palsy, but even once parents receive it, they may wish to seek a second opinion to ensure there wasn’t a misdiagnosis. 

What Types Of Tests Are Used To Diagnose Cerebral Palsy? 

Because there isn’t a specific test that can diagnose cerebral palsy, doctors may use a combination of the following to help make a diagnosis: 

Evaluating health records, including:

  • Paternal medical history
  • Mother’s pregnancy, labor, and delivery records 
  • Newborn tests conducted at birth
  • APGAR scores
  • Baby’s birth, medical, developmental, and growth records

Tests and examinations, including: 

  • Physical examination of the baby
  • Additional screenings – hearing, amino and fatty acids, and hemoglobinopathies
  • Neuroimaging tests to identify brain damage
  • Electroencephalography (EEG) and electromyography (EMG) to evaluate the functionality of the nervous system
  • Lab test, including urinalysis, blood work, and genetic testing
  • Evaluating speech, hearing, vision, mobility, gait, feeding, digestion, and cognitive development 

Once the diagnosis of cerebral palsy has been made, the doctors will determine the extent, location, and severity of the child’s condition and any co-occurring disorders. While cerebral palsy cannot be cured, it is treatable and manageable. The treatment focus will depend on the child’s health status and often necessitates a team of doctors and specialists. 

A Lifetime Of Care For A Child With Cerebral Palsy 

Taking care of a child with cerebral palsy is challenging. The extent of their care can negatively affect parents’ emotional well-being and overwhelm a family financially. If your child’s cerebral palsy occurred due to a medical mistake or medical negligence, a lawsuit could be filed to recover damages from the responsible parties, providing a much-needed financial award to the family. 

If you believe your child’s cerebral palsy is a result of medical mistakes or negligence, you need legal representation. Ross Feller Casey is widely regarded as Pennsylvania’s cerebral palsy lawsuit leader. Our attorneys are knowledgeable and experienced in the litigation of all types of birth injury cases.

We handle all our cases on a contingency basis, so you will not pay anything until a financial recovery is made in your case. Contact one of our leading cerebral palsy lawsuit attorneys in Philadelphia today for your free case review and evaluation.

Disclaimer: Ross Feller Casey, LLP provides legal advice only after an attorney-client relationship is formed. Our website is an introduction to the firm and does not create a relationship between our attorneys and clients. An attorney-client relationship is formed only after a written agreement is signed by the client and the firm. Because every case is unique, the description of awards and summary of cases successfully handled are not intended to imply or guarantee that same success in other cases. Ross Feller Casey, LLP represents catastrophically injured persons and their families in injury and wrongful death cases, providing legal representation in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.