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How do you know if your child has cerebral palsy?

Cerebral palsy is a serious condition that can lead to a life-long disability for a child. Even so, it is not always immediately clear if the child has the disorder at birth. Parents need to know what to look for as the child grows up to see the earliest signs and find out what options they have.

Generally speaking, medical experts note that parents often see signs in the very first months that the child is alive and a doctor can make a diagnosis. However, there are also cases where a doctor does not make the diagnosis until the child is two years old or even older. This delay, and what is seen by the parents as a sudden change -- even though the child has had the disorder all along -- can be difficult to understand.

So, what signs should you look for? The three main categories are:

  1. Abnormal muscle tone. The child may not hold their limbs and other body parts properly, with some appearing too stiff so that they are difficult to move or too floppy, as if the child has no control over them. Even muscle tone that is involuntary -- not connected to direct movement -- may appear altered.
  2. Abnormal posture. As a result of the difficulties using their muscles properly, the child's posture could suffer. They may strongly favor one side over the other. Parents could notice this very early -- when the child simply kicks their legs or instinctively reaches for things -- or as the child learns to crawl, sit, walk and the like.
  3. Developmental delays. First and foremost, all children develop at slightly different rates. It's important for parents not to panic if the child seems behind. However, large delays in major milestones like sitting, rolling, walking or crawling are serious red flags. In fact, medical professionals say that these delays are the main clues they look for.

Not all signs mean the child has cerebral palsy. Kids could simply struggle with certain milestones or types of development. They could have other disorders or outside factors holding them back. It's important for parents to understand this and never to assume anything. However, seeing multiple red flags may mean it's time to contact a doctor and seek answers.

Your options

If the diagnosis turns out to be cerebral palsy, it can be tough for parents to accept. Again, this could change the rest of the child's life, and the parents may feel outraged that hospital negligence or a doctor's errors caused the disorder. That's when it is important to know what options you have in New Jersey and what steps you can take.

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