Diagnosing cerebral palsy 

If you're concerned about your child's development, see your GP. They can refer you to a paediatrician (a doctor specialising in treating children), if necessary.

The paediatrician will ask about your child's medical history and their development. They'll also study your child's reflexes, posture, movements and muscle tone.

Depending on your child's age, you may be referred to:

  • a physiotherapist – for a more formal assessment of your child's movements
  • an educational psychologist – so your child's intellectual development can be assessed

Tests and scans

More tests may be recommended to rule out other problems with similar symptoms to cerebral palsy. These can include:

  • a general delay in development
  • a specific medical condition – such as muscular dystrophy

In some cases, further testing can also confirm a diagnosis of cerebral palsy. This is because the condition can cause changes to the brain's structure, which can be detected by tests.

Tests your child may have include:

  • magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan – which uses radio and magnetic waves to study the brain in more detail
  • an ultrasound scan – which uses sound waves to build up a picture of your child's brain tissue
  • computerised tomography (CT) scan – which uses a series of X-rays that are then assembled by a computer to create a detailed 3D model of your child's brain
  • an electroencephalogram (EEG) – where small electrodes are placed on the scalp to monitor brain activity
  • an electromyogram (EMG) – where muscle activity and the function of the peripheral nerves (the network of nerves that run from your brain and spinal cord to other areas of the body) are tested
  • blood tests

When a baby needs special care in hospital after being born, it may be possible for a confident diagnosis of cerebral palsy to be made relatively quickly.

However, in many cases, a clear diagnosis is only possible after some months or years of screening. It may not be possible to determine the type and severity of your child's condition until they reach three to four years old.

Page last reviewed: 15/03/2016

Next review due: 01/03/2019