Diagnosing cerebral palsy as early as possible is important, as it allows treatment plans to be developed on a proactive basis. CP is usually diagnosed within the first or second year of a child’s life, but if symptoms are mild, it may take several years before a diagnosis can be made. To diagnose CP, medical professionals use three steps:
- Developmental Monitoring.
- Developmental Screening.
- Developmental and Medical Evaluations.
CP generally is diagnosed during the first or second year after birth. But if a child’s symptoms are mild, it is sometimes difficult to make a diagnosis until the child is a few years older.
Developmental monitoring involves measuring a child’s growth and development against established benchmarks. Your pediatrician will examine your child for obvious delays, and ask you if you have any specific concerns about their development. If any concerns are raised, a developmental screening test may be administered.
Adevelopmental screening is a short procedure used to determine if a child has any specific developmental delays. Depending on the age of the child, this screening may be an interview or questionnaire completed by the parents and/or other caregivers. Other screenings can be tests that the doctor administers to the child directly.
Developmental screenings may be performed more than once, depending on the issues raised. As cerebral palsy may be mild, movement issues which should be evident at nine months may not be sufficiently advanced until another screening at eighteen months. Almost all delays in movement development can be identified by the time a child is two and a half years old.
If the results of the developmental screening are indicative of delay, the next step is that the doctor will order developmental and medical evaluations and begin planning early interventions.
Developmental and Medical Evaluations
The goal of a developmental and medical evaluation is to diagnose a disability as specifically as possible. Evaluations may be performed by your child’s primary physician, or by specialists such as developmental pediatricians, child neurologists, pediatric rehabilitation professionals, etc.
In the case of a possible diagnosis of cerebral palsy, the doctor will examine the child’s motor skills, muscle tone, coordination, posture, and reflexes, and will also do comparative evaluations in order to rule out other disorders that may cause similar problems. If the evaluation does indicate CP, the doctor may also test for ancillary developmental conditions such as intellectual disability, the likelihood of seizures, and problems with vision, hearing, or speech.
Clinical tests may be a part of the initial medical evaluation, or follow-up procedures to try and determine the cause of a child’s cerebral palsy. These may include computed tomography (CT or CAT scans) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Electroencephalograms (EEG), genetic testing, metabolic testing, or a combination of these and other tests may also be ordered.
If you think your child has or may have cerebral palsy because of something that happened at birth, please fill out the form on the Birth Injury Web official website..