Cerebral Palsy Assessment Tests

Quick Answer

Cerebral palsy assessments help doctors confirm a diagnosis by further examining symptoms and ruling out other possible conditions. Cerebral palsy assessments can include motor skills tests, brain imaging scans and bloodwork. These tests help determine the extent of the condition and the appropriate treatments.

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Cerebral Palsy Assessments Explained

Cerebral palsy assessments refer to a series of tests doctors use to determine whether a child has cerebral palsy, a relatively common birth injury sometimes caused by medical negligence or improper medical care.

If you or your family doctor suspects that your child might have cerebral palsy, assessments will confirm a diagnosis. Unless symptoms are severe, most children are normally diagnosed with cerebral palsy between ages 1 and 3.

Cerebral palsy assessments can include:

  • Motor Skills Tests: A check of the child’s fine and gross motor skills. Some examples of gross motor skills include walking, maintaining balance and jumping. Some examples of fine motor skills include writing, feeding and turning pages in a book.
  • Imaging Tests: Brain imaging tests, such as an MRI, Computerized Tomography (CT), cranial ultrasound or Electroencephalogram (EEG). These tests can detect seizure activity.
  • Blood Tests: Laboratory tests, such as blood work, which can indicate genetic issues.

While it cannot be cured, cerebral palsy can be treated—especially when diagnosed early. Conducting cerebral palsy assessments early on is crucial for a proper diagnosis and receiving the most effective treatments and therapies as soon as possible.

Cerebral Palsy PET Scan

Many people who have cerebral palsy also have epilepsy which causes seizures (abnormal electrical impulses). A cerebral palsy PET scan can detect possible epilepsy in children, allowing for earlier diagnosis and treatment.

A PET scan makes it possible for doctors to prescribe anti-convulsion medications. However, these medications are recommended only for children who are most at risk of seizures rather than for all children with cerebral palsy. Less medication means fewer chances of side effects.

One of the biggest benefits of a PET scan is that it can tell doctors how the body part is functioning, rather than simply how it looks.

PET (positron emission tomography) tests use radiation to make 3D color images of the brain. The images picked up by the PET scan are then reconstructed by computer analysis. A doctor may use a PET scan alongside other diagnostic tools such as X-rays or MRI scans.

Before the test, a small amount of a detectable medicine will either be injected into the patient’s arm or breathed in as a gas. A PET scan can take 30-60 minutes and is not painful. Generally, patients are told not to eat in the hours before the procedure.

Cerebral Palsy Electroencephalogram

An electroencephalogram (EEG) for cerebral palsy can also detect possible epilepsy in children. Like a PET scan, EEGs also help doctors know whether to prescribe anti-convulsion medications for children who are most at risk of seizures.

The EEG records the electrical activity of the brain. The brain’s fluctuating electrical impulses are recorded as wavy lines of various frequencies either on graph paper or digitally on a computer monitor. An EEG for cerebral palsy can detect abnormal electrical activities associated with seizures, and possibly predict future instances of seizures.

Testing with an EEG for cerebral palsy is straightforward. Small metal discs with thin wires known as electrodes are placed on the child’s scalp. These electrodes then send signals to a computer to record the results. The child’s hair should be free from any oils or anything that might interfere with the results.

Cerebral Palsy CT Scan

Cerebral palsy can sometimes be a difficult condition to diagnose. In these cases, a CT (computerized tomography scan) scan may be used to determine whether or not a child has cerebral palsy.

A CT scan can detect signs that would otherwise be missed by simply looking for physical symptoms. CT scans can detect invisible signs of cerebral palsy like bleeding in the brain, skull fractures or other related brain injuries.

CT scans are also useful for detecting scars on the brain that can lead to movement problems later in life.

A CT scan can also help physicians detect other brain conditions commonly associated with cerebral palsy, such as hydrocephalus—an accumulation of fluids in the ventricles of the brain, leading to cerebral palsy.

Babies and children are generally sedated before a CT scan so that they stay calm while the procedure is completed. Unlike MRIs, CT scans are not loud.

Cerebral Palsy MRI

An MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) is a brain imaging test doctors use to diagnose cerebral palsy. MRIs use radio waves and a magnetic field to make a detailed 3D image of your child’s brain. The test itself causes no pain but can be noisy. MRIs can take over an hour to complete, so your child may be given a mild sedative to help cope with the time and noise associated with the test.

Doctors often use MRIs to make a conclusive cerebral palsy diagnosis once the condition is suspected. Even though observing motor skills is an accurate way to diagnose cerebral palsy, the MRI can help rule out other serious disorders and confirm a diagnosis.

Motor Skills Test

A motor skills test is part of a complete series of cerebral palsy assessments doctors use to determine whether a child has cerebral palsy and the severity of the condition.

If your family doctor suspects your child might have cerebral palsy, he or she will complete a motor skills test as part of a cerebral palsy assessment.

Depending on your child’s age, the motor skills test might include:

  • Testing for normal reflexes
  • Seeing if your child regularly favors one hand over the other to reach for objects
  • Having the child pass an object from one hand to the other
  • Determining if your child can use a pincer grasp to hold objects

A motor skills test is an important part of reaching a cerebral palsy diagnosis. Depending on the results of the test, your doctor might order additional brain imaging tests.

Vision, Hearing and Speech Impairment Tests

Children with cerebral palsy often suffer related disorders involving vision, hearing and speech impairments. For this reason, doctors advise having children assessed by ophthalmologists, hearing specialists and speech-language pathologists to determine which areas have been impaired.

These assessments help determine the extent of the neurological damage and which senses are being affected. Specialists may also look at factors like growth rate, nutrition and any difficulties the child has swallowing. Based on the findings of these assessments, doctors can order further assessments related to specific areas.

Legal Help for Cerebral Palsy

Cerebral palsy assessments help confirm whether your child has suffered a birth injury. These assessments are important because they can reveal details about your child’s condition that may establish a medical negligence case against your doctor or healthcare team.

If you suspect your child’s cerebral palsy diagnosis is the result of medical negligence, contact an experienced birth injury lawyer to help investigate your case. Call the Birth Injury Justice Center today at 800-914-1562 and a case manager will review your legal claim for free.

Birth Injury Support Team

The Birth Injury Justice Center was founded in 2003 by a team of legal professionals to educate and empower victims and families affected by birth injuries. Our team is devoted to providing you with the best resources and legal information for all types of birth injuries.

View Sources
  1. CDC, “Cerebral Palsy Screening and Diagnosis”. Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/cp/diagnosis.html. Accessed on January 8, 2019.
  2. Michigan State University, “Brain Imaging in Cerebral Palsy”. Retrieved from: http://www.epi.msu.edu/cpon/articles/brain_imaging_in_cerebral_palsy. Accessed on January 8, 2019.
  3. American Academy of Neurology, “Practice Parameter: Diagnostic Assessment of the Child With Cerebral Palsy”. Retrieved from: http://tools.aan.com/professionals/practice/guidelines/guideline_summaries/Child_Cerebral_Pasly_Guideline_for_Clinicians.pdf. Accessed on January 8, 2019.