Cerebral Palsy Symptoms

The most common signs of CP are spastic and involuntary movements, lack of coordination and difficulties with motor skills.

Cerebral Palsy Symptoms in Infants

Brain injuries that cause cerebral palsy affect a person’s capability of movement, posture and balance. The lack of control over motor function causes varied complications for each person with cerebral palsy.

Due to the many different levels of severity and types of movement problems, there are a variety of different signs of cerebral palsy. Symptoms can also vary based on differing levels of severity. Indications of CP are based on the type of cerebral palsy, neurological factors and secondary factors.

Signs To Look For

Specific movement problems are the primary indications of cerebral palsy. Cerebral palsy is a group of different motor function disorders caused by injury in different parts of the brain. These motor control problems are the foundation of the multitude of other factors associated with cerebral palsy.


  • Difficulties with fine motor skills due to jerky reflexes
  • Stiff muscles (hypertonia)
  • Exaggerated reflexes


  • Tremors and shakiness
  • Involuntary reflexes
  • Variations in muscle tone (hypertonia and hypotonia)
  • Slow, writhing movement


  • Lack of coordination
  • Difficulty with balance

These developmental movement disorders can be limited to: one side of the body, the legs, the arms, all four limbs or just one limb.

People with cerebral palsy experience different complications based on the location of movement problems. These movement problems usually do not get worse over time, but issues such as a shortening of muscles or tendons may develop without proper management.

Neurological Signs

While the primary sign of cerebral palsy is a lack of control of motor function, other conditions may present themselves in people with CP. The areas of the brain that control movement are also responsible for regulating other functions. The brain injuries that cause cerebral palsy can therefore cause other neurological complications. In addition to the motor control centers, other parts of the brain may also be injured during, before or after birth.

Not everyone with cerebral palsy experiences the same neurological effects. The signs of CP depends on the location of their brain injury. These effects can make daily life more difficult, but proper care and management can provide a better quality of life.

Common neurological conditions in people with cerebral palsy include:

  • Seizures and epilepsy
  • Intellectual disorders
  • Learning disorders
  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Buildup of cranial pressure due to fluid imbalance (hydrocephalus)
  • Behavioral problems
  • Visual/hearing impairments
  • Speech and language issues (dysarthria)
  • Sensory impairments/pain

It is important to note that it is hard to assess the intellectual capacity of children with cerebral palsy when they are very young, especially if speech is an issue. Tests to measure intelligence in children usually require communication and control of their hands. Movement is also essential to a child’s ability to express him or herself. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that seven percent of children with cerebral palsy also have autism spectrum disorder.

Slightly over 41 percent of children with cerebral palsy have co-occurring epilepsy. The severity and frequency of seizures depends on the part of the brain that was affected.

Secondary Signs

The inability to control motor function can lead to many secondary symptoms. Children who struggle with motor skills have a harder time staying healthy. For example, simple tasks like chewing and swallowing food take more effort for many children with cerebral palsy. People with mild cases of cerebral palsy are less likely than those with severe cases to experience a variety of secondary effects.

Co-occurring conditions commonly associated with cerebral palsy include:

  • Stunted growth
  • Gastroesophageal reflux
  • Drooling
  • Sleep disorders
  • Airway obstruction
  • Tooth and gum disease
  • Incontinence
  • Constipation
  • Contractures
  • Frequent fractures
  • Hernias
  • Trouble sucking or eating

These disorders are generally a result of the brain injury experienced by the child and not a result of a cerebral palsy diagnosis. Oftentimes, secondary conditions may be interrelated. For example, inadequate growth is common because of poor nutrition, which is often a result of feeding issues.

Treating The Signs of CP

It’s easy to grasp why children with cerebral palsy require so much care and medical attention after learning the physical and neurological conditions they can struggle with. Treatment generally encompasses managing these symptoms in a way that allows those with cerebral palsy to live as normal a life as possible. Being patient and staying proactive is the best way to manage the variety of signs anyone with cerebral palsy may encounter.

To learn more about detecting cerebral palsy, try downloading our free Cerebral Palsy Guide, which includes over 12 pages of in-depth information for children and parents of a child with CP.

Birth Injury Support Team

Cerebral Palsy Guide was founded upon the goal of educating families about cerebral palsy, raising awareness, and providing support for children, parents, and caregivers affected by the condition. Our easy-to-use website offers simple, straightforward information that provides families with medical and legal solutions. We are devoted to helping parents and children access the tools they need to live a life full of happiness

View Sources
  1. Understanding Cerebral Palsy: A Guide for Parents and Professionals. Marion Stanton. Jessica Kingsley Publishers. London and Philadelphia. 2012.
  2. Cerebral Palsy: A Complete Guide for Caregiving 2nd ed. Freeman Miller, M.D. and Steven J. Bachrach, M.D. The Johns Hopkins University Press. Baltimore, MD. 2006.
  3. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/cerebral-palsy/basics/symptoms/con-20030502
  4. http://www.cdc.gov/Features/CerebralPalsy/
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