The symptoms of cerebral palsy aren't usually obvious just after a baby is born. They normally become noticeable during the first two or three years of a child's life.
Speak to your health visitor or GP if you have any concerns about your child's health or development.
Movement and development problems
The main symptoms of cerebral palsy are problems with movement, co-ordination and development.
Possible signs in a child include:
- delays in reaching development milestones – for example, not sitting by eight months or not walking by 18 months
- seeming too stiff or too floppy (hypotonia)
- weak arms or legs
- fidgety, jerky or clumsy movements
- random, uncontrolled movements
- muscle spasms
- shaking hands (tremors)
- walking on tip-toes
The severity of symptoms varies significantly from child to child.
The parts of the body that are affected can also vary. Some cases only affect one side of the body, some mainly affect the legs, and some affect the whole body.
People with cerebral palsy can also have a range of other problems, including:
- feeding, drooling and swallowing difficulties
- problems with speaking and communication
- seizures or fits (epilepsy)
- difficulty falling asleep and/or staying asleep
- gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD) – where acid from the stomach leaks up into the oesophagus (gullet)
- an abnormally curved spine (scoliosis)
- hips that pop out (dislocate) easily
- difficulty controlling the bladder (urinary incontinence)
- a learning disability – about half of children with cerebral palsy have a learning disability
- eye problems – including reduced vision, a squint or uncontrollable eye movements
- hearing loss
Types of cerebral palsy
Your doctors may refer to your or your child's condition as a particular type of cerebral palsy, based on the symptoms you or your child has.
There are four main types of cerebral palsy:
- spastic cerebral palsy – the muscles are stiff and tight (especially when trying to move them quickly), making it difficult to move and reducing the range of movement that's possible
- dyskinetic cerebral palsy – the muscles switch between stiffness and floppiness, causing random, uncontrolled body movements or spasms
- ataxic cerebral palsy – when a person has balance and co-ordination problems, resulting in shaky or clumsy movements and sometimes tremors
- mixed cerebral palsy – when a person has symptoms of more than one of the types mentioned above
You may also hear terms such as hemiplegia or diplegia. These refer to the parts of the body affected by cerebral palsy.
Hemiplegia means one side of the body is affected, diplegia is where two limbs are affected, monoplegia where one limb is affected and quadriplegia means all four limbs (and usually the whole body) are affected.
Page last reviewed: 15 March 2017
Next review due: 15 March 2020