What are the characteristics of cerebral palsy in children?

Cerebral palsy is a series of disorders that affect the brain and nervous system of an individual. The condition is usually caused by injury to the brain, which can occur before, during, or shortly after birth. As the brain is still developing, symptoms of cerebral palsy in children often don't appear until they are two or three years old, but can appear as early as three months after birth. Cerebral palsy in children can be classified as spastic, athetoid, ataxic, or mixed. Characteristics of cerebral palsy in children include speech problems, mental retardation, vision and hearing disorders, and seizures.

Approximately one in 500 births produces cerebral palsy in children. The spastic variety is the most common, occurring in more than 70 percent of children with cerebral palsy. Children with a spastic form of cerebral palsy usually have stiff and weak muscles, which can cause young children to walk on their toes or with one leg swinging over the other. Under this type of cerebral palsy in children, vision can be affected with the appearance of lazy eye or crossed eyes. Other features associated with this form of cerebral palsy include severe mental retardation, seizures, and difficulty swallowing. Difficulty swallowing can cause breathing problems and eventually damage the lungs.

The athetoid form of cerebral palsy is less common, occurring in about 20 percent of children born with cerebral palsy. Children with this type of cerebral palsy will often have spontaneous movements in their limbs and body. Movement can also be erratic and can become more unpredictable when excited. Children may also have pronounced slurred speech and nerve deafness.

The ataxic form of cerebral palsy is the least common, affecting nearly five percent of all cerebral palsy births. Children with this condition will suffer from muscle weakness and tremors. Young children will walk erratically, often with their legs apart.

Many children will also have a combination of two of the types of cerebral palsy. Most of the time children will have the features related to spastic and athetoid cerebral palsy. When children have a combination of two forms of cerebral palsy, they will usually have severe mental retardation.

Young children who are born prematurely should be watched closely to see if they develop features of cerebral palsy. Children with cerebral palsy often have average or above average intelligence. However, their ability to show their intelligence may be hampered due to problems with verbalizing.

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