Cerebral Palsy - How is cerebral palsy diagnosed?

Diagnosing cerebral palsy can be difficult, especially before the child's first birthday.  In fact, diagnosing cerebral palsy can involve a period of waiting for the definite and permanent appearance of specific motor problems. Most children with cerebral palsy can be diagnosed by the age of 18 months.

Infants with cerebral palsy frequently have developmental delay, in which they are slow to reach developmental milestones such as learning to roll over, sit, crawl, smile, or walk.  Many of the normal developmental milestones, such as reaching for toys (3-4 months), sitting (6-7 months), and walking (10-14 months), are based on motor function.

A physician may suspect cerebral palsy in a child whose development of these skills is delayed. In making a diagnosis of cerebral palsy, the physician takes into account the delay in developmental milestones as well as physical findings that might include abnormal muscle tone, abnormal movements, abnormal reflexes and persistent infantile reflexes. The doctor also will take a careful medical history and attempt to rule out any other disorders that could be causing the symptoms. Brain tumors, bone deformities, allergies, and other problems have similar symptoms. 

Parents may become concerned about their baby’s or toddler’s development if the child is having problems learning to roll over, sit, crawl or walk. The doctor will evaluate the child’s muscle tone, which can make the child appear floppy, stiff, or a combination variable muscle tone increased (stiff) at times and low (floppy) at other times.  

Other signs of cerebral palsy

There are other important signs of cerebral palsy. An infant with cerebral palsy may:

  • Have persistence of certain reflexes, called primitive reflexes, that are normal in younger infants, but usually disappear by 6 to 12 months of age. Abnormal primitive reflexes are involuntary responses to certain kinds of stimulation from the environment.  For example, a very exaggerated startle response to a loud noise or sudden movement;
  • Develop early hand preference. While most babies do not develop a hand preference (become right- or left-handed) until at least 12 months of age, some babies with cerebral palsy do so before six months of age;
  • Have an abnormal high-pitched cry;
  • Have poor feeding abilities due to difficulty sucking or swallowing;
  • Use one side of the body more than the other;
  • Have spasticity of some muscles;
  • Lack energy, or be lethargic;
  • Have seizures (staring spells, eye fluttering, changes in consciousness, body twitching);
  • Be difficult to wake
  • Have vision and hearing problems;
  • Be unusually tense and irritable.

Only a careful review of the medical records can support a likely cause of injuries and whether the actions of the delivery team played a part in causing your child's cerebral palsy. Our lawyers and medical advisors who handle birth injury cases have experience investigating medical mistakes and birth injury malpractice and have access to the type of qualified medical experts necessary to review complicated birth injury cases. If your child suffered a birth injury resulting in cerebral palsy due to improper care during your pregnancy or at the time of delivery, perhaps we can help. Contact one of our medical advisors - all are professionally licensed - they will understand the complex issues of labor and delivery that can result in medical conditions like cerebral palsy. Please call our Medical Malpractice group which handles birth injuries that result in cerebral palsy at  1.800.552.7115 or contact us. If you think you have a medical malpractice case within MN, ND, SD, IA or WI, please call 1.800.207.6771.


  • Geralis, Elaine, (1998) Children with Cerebral Palsy: A Parent's Guide, Woodbine House, Inc., 1991.
  • Miller, Freeman, M.D., Bachrach, Steven, M.D., Cerebral Palsy: A Complete Guide for Caregiving, The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore and London, 2005
  • Pincus, Dion, Everything You Need to Know About Cerebral Palsy, Rosen Publishing Group, Inc. New York, 2000. 
  • Pellegrino, Louis. "Cerebral Palsy", in Batshaw, M.L. (ed.), Children With Disabilities, Fourth Edition, Baltimore, MD, Paul H. Brooks Publishing Company, 1997, pages 499-528.
  • Stanley, Fiona, Blair, Eve, Alberman, Eva. (2000) Cerebral Palsies: Epidemiology & Causal Pathways. Mac Keith Press



The articles on our Website include some of the publications and papers authored by our attorneys, both before and after they joined our firm. The content of these articles should not be taken as legal advice.