Cerebral palsy (CP) is a term used to describe a group of brain-related disorders that affect movement, muscle tone, posture, and motor skills.

Cerebral palsy is caused by a malformation of the brain or a brain injury before, during, or after birth. There is no cure for CP. However, through physical and occupational therapy, speech therapy, medications, and assistive devices, a child's capabilities may be significantly improved.

Cerebral palsy is the most prevalent motor disability in children. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), about one in 323 children are diagnosed with CP.


One in 323

children are diagnosed as having cerebral palsy


Expecting parents rely on obstetricians and hospital labor and delivery teams to make pregnancies and births go smoothly. When complications arise that may have caused harm to your baby, you need to know what to look for.

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More than half of children with a CP diagnosis are likely to suffer from at least one other co-occurring condition.


35 - 41 percent

Between 35 and 41 percent of children diagnosed with CP also have epilepsy, which is characterized by unpredictable seizures.

Intellectual disability

40 percent

Approximately 40 percent of children with CP suffer an intellectual disability, limiting their reasoning, learning, and problem solving abilities.

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD)

7 percent

While ASD affects just one percent of children in the United States, seven percent of children diagnosed with CP are also diagnosed with ASD.

Multiple co-occurring conditions

25 percent

In about 25 percent of cases, children with CP have both epilepsy and an intellectual disability.


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Motor disorders like CP often affect a child's ability to walk.

  • 58.2 percent of children with CP can walk independently
  • 11.3 percent can walk with the assistance of a hand-held mobility device, such as a cane
  • 30.6 percent have limited or no ability to walk

As with other severe birth injuries, the nature and extent of CP symptoms vary depending on the type and severity of the disorder.


Types of Cerebral Palsy

Doctors classify CP according to the movement disorder or disorders exhibited by a patient. Three types of movement disorders can be the basis of a CP diagnosis, each of which results from damage to a particular part of the brain.

Learn more about types of Cerebral Palsy


Depending on which of the structures are affected, someone may experience these symptoms:

Dystonia: Dystonia causes involuntary and repetitive twisting motions that may be localized or impact the entire body. Involuntary movements can be painful and occur more frequently when someone is tired, anxious, tense, emotional, or experiencing pain.

Athetosis: Characterized by slow, writhing, involuntary motions, often affecting the face, neck, hands, or feet, athetosis affects the ability to maintain a posture. Athetosis may cause the appearance of restlessness.

Chorea: Stemming from the Greek word for dance, chorea refers to brief, abrupt, and involuntary movements. Those who suffer from severe chorea exhibit wild, violent movements.

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While the signs of CP may appear in the first few months of life, children often are not diagnosed until after the age of two. In young children, symptoms of CP include:


It may be difficult for parents to assess an infant's muscle tone and posture.

Thus, many parents first notice that their child may have CP when their child is consistently missing physical milestones.

Cognitive milestones

Cognitive milestones arealso crucial in determining whether a child may have CP.

However, not all children with CP suffer from cognitive impairments. The most recognized cognitive milestones are:

Diagnosis and Care of Young Children with Cerebral Palsy

Parents of children who exhibit the symptoms of CP should discuss their concerns with their pediatrician. Most children are diagnosed with CP by age two; however, if a child suffers from mild symptoms, a diagnosis may be delayed.

Once a child obtains a CP diagnosis, they may be referred to a specialist. Choosing the right specialist is a crucial part of a child's treatment plan because many children with CP also have related developmental conditions such as intellectual disability, seizures, or problems with vision, hearing, or speech. Depending on the young patient's specific needs, this may include a referral to a neurodevelopmental pediatrician, child neurologist, or pediatric physiatrist.

Children with CP often require additional help in school. Early intervention programs are available to children with CP through their third birthday. Once a child reaches preschool, special education programs help by providing additional attention to students who need assistance. By law, schools must work with parents and children to create individualized education plans when necessary. Schools may also offer assistive technology such as communication devices or computer technology at no cost to parents.

Doctors rely on developmental monitoring and screening to diagnos CP.


What causes Cerebral Palsy?

The most common causes of brain damage during the birthing process include deprivation of oxygen or, if a complicated or lengthy labor occurs, physical trauma.

Two primary causes of CP

Cerebral palsy is caused when a developing brain is damaged during pregnancy or birth or by abnormal brain development. Brain damage can occur at any time throughout pregnancy, during birth, or after a baby is born.

Types of Cerebral Palsy

Congenital CP

According to the CDC, between 85 and 90 percent of CP cases are congenital. Doctors use risk factors to assess the likelihood that a child will develop congenital CP.

Risk factors for CP include:

  • Birth complications
  • Premature birth
  • Low birthweight
  • Multiple births
  • Use of fertility treatment  before pregnancy
  • Infections during pregnancy
  • Jaundice

It is the obstetrician or mid-wife's job to identify risk factors and manage care during pregnancy and delivery according to recognized standards of practice. The failure to provide standard obstetric care can be the legal cause of catastrophic injuries such as CP.

Acquired CP

A small percentage of CP is caused by brain damage occurring more than 28 days after birth. Doctors' call this acquired CP.

Acquired CP is most often the result of an infection such as meningitis or encephalitis but can also result from the inappropriate medical management of a baby during its early life. Mismanagement of issues such as infection or high bilirubin can result in a child developing CP and related complications.

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To learn more about how we can help your family pursue a Michigan medical malpractice case, call us at 1-800-783-0989 to schedule a free consultation.

If your child is diagnosed with CP, choosing a law firm to pursue a birth injury lawsuit can be the most important decision you make for your child's and your family's future. At the Michigan birth injury law firm of Sommers Schwartz, we help families of children born with preventable forms of CP. We pursue claims for financial compensation against the parties responsible for their child's injuries.

Because we work on a contingency basis, we will not bill you for any of our efforts in handling your case unless we obtain the compensation your family deserves. Call today or contact us online.