Diagnosis

If your family doctor or pediatrician suspects your child has cerebral palsy, he or she will evaluate your child's signs and symptoms, review your child's medical history, and conduct a physical evaluation. Your doctor may refer you to a specialist trained in treating children with brain and nervous system conditions (pediatric neurologist).

Your doctor will also order a series of tests to make a diagnosis and rule out other possible causes.

Brain scans

Brain-imaging technologies can reveal areas of damage or abnormal development in the brain. These tests may include the following:

  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). An MRI uses radio waves and a magnetic field to produce detailed 3-D or cross-sectional images of your child's brain. An MRI can often identify any lesions or abnormalities in your child's brain.

    This test is painless, but it's noisy and can take up to an hour to complete. Your child will likely receive a mild sedative beforehand. An MRI is usually the preferred imaging test.

  • Cranial ultrasound. This can be performed during infancy. A cranial ultrasound uses high-frequency sound waves to obtain images of the brain. An ultrasound doesn't produce a detailed image, but it may be used because it's quick and inexpensive, and it can provide a valuable preliminary assessment of the brain.

Electroencephalogram (EEG)

If your child has had seizures, your doctor may order an electroencephalogram (EEG) to determine if he or she has epilepsy, which often occurs in people with cerebral palsy. In an EEG test, a series of electrodes are affixed to your child's scalp.

The EEG records the electrical activity of your child's brain. If he or she has epilepsy, it's common for there to be changes in normal brain wave patterns.

Laboratory tests

Laboratory tests may also screen for genetic or metabolic problems.

Additional tests

If your child is diagnosed with cerebral palsy, you'll likely be referred to specialists for assessments of other conditions often associated with the disorder. These tests may identify:

  • Vision impairment
  • Hearing impairment
  • Speech delays or impairments
  • Intellectual disabilities
  • Other developmental delays
  • Movement disorders