How is Cerebral Palsy Diagnosed?

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Diagnosing Cerebral Palsy

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. 

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.

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.

About our Birth Injury Attorneys

Birth injury medical malpractice cases require extensive knowledge of both law and medicine. Robins Kaplan LLP birth injury attorneys and medical analysts have extensive experience handling these complex cases. We have been recognized for recovering remarkable settlements for people in Minnesota who have suffered serious injuries or economic harm due to medical negligence.

Contact Us for a Free Case Evaluation

If you or your child suffered a birth injury due to improper care or negligence during your pregnancy, or at the time of delivery, we can help. Call 1.800.552.7115 or complete our free case evaluation form to speak to a medical analyst who understands. There is no charge for this call or evaluation.

Our attorneys handle matters primarily in Minnesota, Iowa, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wisconsin.


  • 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.


Teresa Fariss McClain


Co-Chair, First Chair Training Program

Peter A. Schmit


Chair, National Personal Injury and Medical Malpractice Group

Brandon E. Vaughn


Chair, Black Firm Member Resource Group

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