Parents are often discouraged when they learn that there isn’t a specific test that definitively diagnoses cerebral palsy. Rather, it is a condition that is 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 period of time to provide them with 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 in order to begin treatment and early intervention of the condition, which can be very helpful when they are started at a young age. It’s also important because parents need time to find support – financially and emotionally – for the difficult and expensive journey that is in front of them. There are many organizations that assist families with a child who has cerebral palsy, but there has to 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 there is not a test that 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, the majority of cerebral palsy cases can take up to two years to diagnose. Worse yet, for those children who have milder cases, cerebral palsy may not be diagnosed until brain development is further along, often when the child is 3 to 5 years of age. The average age for the diagnosis of spastic diplegia (a common form of cerebral palsy) is 18 months.
Parents are often the first to notice that there is something different about their child. 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 he or she will catch up with other children later. While that certainly may be the case, it’s important for parents 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 the elimination of 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 his or her 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 a period of 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, he or she 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 make a diagnosis of cerebral palsy, but even once parents receive it, they may wish to seek a second opinion to make sure there wasn’t a misdiagnosis.
What Type 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 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 then determine the extent, location, and severity of the child’s condition as well as 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.
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 can 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 among the nation’s leading cerebral palsy lawsuit leaders. Our attorneys are knowledgeable and experienced in the litigation of birth injury cases. Our cases are handled on a contingency basis, so you will not be charged until a financial recovery is made in your case. Contact one of our leading cerebral palsy lawsuit attorneys today for your free case review and evaluation.