What Is Ataxic Cerebral Palsy?
Cerebral palsy (CP) affects muscle movement and control. People with cerebral palsy have it for life.
Ataxic CP is one type of cerebral palsy. Kids with ataxic cerebral palsy have trouble with balance. They may walk with their legs farther apart than other kids. And they can have trouble knowing exactly where something is. They might think it is closer or farther than it actually is.
Other types of cerebral palsy can lead to muscle stiffness (spastic CP) or writhing movements (dyskinetic CP). Some kids have more than one kind of CP. And sometimes, the type of cerebral palsy a child has can change over time.
What Causes Cerebral Palsy?
Cerebral palsy is usually the result of a brain injury or problem. In ataxic CP, the brain injury or problem is in a part of the brain called the cerebellum. The cerebellum controls balance and coordinates movements.
A child might be born with CP or develop it later. The brain injury or problem doesn't get worse, but someone with CP may have different needs over time.
Cerebral palsy can be caused by:
- infections during pregnancy
- stroke either in the womb or after birth
- untreated jaundice (a yellowing of the skin and whites of eyes)
- genetic disorders
- medical problems in the mom during pregnancy
- being shaken as a baby (shaken baby syndrome)
- injury during delivery
- injury from an accident (such as a car accident)
Premature babies (babies born early) are at higher risk for CP than babies born at full-term. So are low-birthweight babies (even if carried to term) and multiple births, such as twins and triplets.
What Are the Signs & Symptoms of Ataxic Cerebral Palsy?
Ataxia (ah-TAK-see-uh) means that someone has trouble coordinating muscles to do something. Kids with ataxic (ah-TAK-sik) cerebral palsy may walk with their feet spread apart, and their walk may look unbalanced or jerky. They might not be able to get their muscles to do other things too, like reach for a fork.
Kids with all types of CP can have vision, hearing, speech, eating, behavior, and learning problems. Some kids have seizures.
How Is Ataxic Cerebral Palsy Diagnosed?
Most children with ataxic cerebral palsy are diagnosed in the first 2 years of life. If a baby is premature or has another health problem that can be associated with CP, this will alert health care providers to start looking for signs of CP.
No single test can diagnose ataxic CP. So health care professionals look at many things, including a child's:
- muscle tone
- interactions with others
Testing may include:
- brain MRI, CT scan, or ultrasound
- blood and urine (pee) tests to check for other medical conditions, including genetic conditions
- electroencephalography (EEG) to look at electrical activity in the brain
- electromyography (EMG) to check for muscle weakness
- evaluation of how a child walks and moves
- speech, hearing, and vision testing
How Is Ataxic Cerebral Palsy Treated?
There is no cure for cerebral palsy. The health care team works with the child and family to make a treatment plan. The health care team includes a:
- developmental behavioral pediatrician
- occupational therapist
- physical therapist
- speech therapist
- neurologist (nervous system doctor)
- ophthalmologist (eye doctor)
- orthopedic surgeon (bone doctor)
- otolaryngologist (ear, nose, and throat doctor)
The treatment plan may include:
- physical therapy and occupational therapy
- leg braces, a walker, and/or a wheelchair
- medicine for muscle pain or stiffness
- special nutrition to help the child grow
- surgery to improve movement in the legs, ankles, feet, hips, wrists, and arms
Where Can Caregivers Get Help?
Taking care of a child with cerebral palsy can feel overwhelming at times. Not only do kids with CP need a lot of attention at home, they also need to go to many medical appointments and therapies. Don't be afraid to say yes when someone asks, "Can I help?" Your family and friends really do want to be there for you.
To feel less alone and to connect with others who are facing the same challenges, find a local or online support group. You also can get information and support from CP organizations, such as:
Staying strong and healthy is not only good for you, but also for your child and your whole family.
Living with cerebral palsy is different for every child. To help your child move and learn as much as possible, work closely with your care team to develop a treatment plan. Then, as your child grows and his or her needs change, adjust the plan as necessary.
These guides can help as you plan for each stage of childhood and early adulthood:
- Cerebral Palsy Checklist: Babies & Preschoolers (Birth to Age 5)
- Cerebral Palsy Checklist: Big Kids (Ages 6 to 12)
- Cerebral Palsy Checklist: Teens & Young Adults (Ages 13 to 21)
Reviewed by: M. Wade Shrader, MD and Margaret Salzbrenner, APRN
Date reviewed: 09/03/2018