Ataxic Cerebral Palsy

Ataxic cerebral palsy (CP) is the least common type of the disorder, affecting around 5 to 10% of all people with CP. Ataxic CP is derived from the word “ataxia,” meaning lack of coordination and order. Along with tremors, children with ataxic CP may also have speech and oral problems. However, although no cure currently exists, there are a variety of treatments that helps children cope with their difficulties and go on to have a better quality of life.

Causes of Ataxic Cerebral Palsy

Ataxic cerebral palsy is caused by damage to the cerebellum, the part of the brain that helps control and tune movement and coordination. This can happen when the brain’s white cells are damaged via lesions, brain bleeding prior to birth, maternal high blood pressure, and problems with the placenta during pregnancy and/or delivery.

Ataxic Cerebral Palsy Symptom and Characteristics

Ataxic CP can affect all of the major limbs, making it extremely difficult to carry out daily activities:

  • Arms and Hands (upper limbs): People with ataxic CP generally have tremors and shaky arms and hands due to inaccurate movements and lack of coordination. In addition, repetitious activities, such as writing and clapping are often extremely difficult.
  • Legs: (lower limbs): Walking if often difficult for those with ataxic CP and they are prone to regular falling. Consequently, if your child has ataxic CP, you may noticed a “wide gait walk,” where the feet are spread apart further than the hips while walking.

Speech Problems

Known as “scanning speech,” people with ataxic CP may speak in a monotone voice marked by a combination of pauses and accelerations while talking. They may also give off a breathing sound while speaking.

Oral Problems

Most infant, children, and even adults with ataxic CP may have difficulty swallowing foods and liquids. Furthermore, they may also have delayed intestinal and gastric responsiveness, leading to other issues such as acid reflux and gastrointestinal reflux disease (GERD).

Ataxic Cerebral Palsy Diagnosis

Most children aren’t diagnosed with ataxic CP until at least 18 to 24 months of age. Doctors are hesitant to make a formal diagnosis since its based on motor skills, and motor skills develop at different times depending upon the child. When several skills aren’t normally developing and the child is drastically behind, doctors will then begin the diagnosis process, almost always before 3 years of age.

Diagnosis is based upon a clinical assessment, using standardized tools that help measure the probability of ataxic CP, such as the Romberg Test and a Moro reflex test . During the assessment, physicians will look for abnormal posture and muscle tone, slow development of motor skills, your child’s family history, and any factors that may have caused medical problems, such as a previous accident involving head trauma.

Treatment Options

Even though there currently isn’t a cure for ataxic CP, there are a few treatment options that can help your child’s social, mental, and quality of life improve.

  • Early Intervention: The sooner you can get your child into an early intervention treatment plan, the better chances they have with developmental and social skills, leading to better quality of life. If an early intervention isn’t provided, a child with ataxic CP may fall drastically behind in all areas of life. It’s important to speak with your physician early on in order to determine what plan works best for you and your child.
  • Therapy: Children with ataxic CP need three different types of therapy: physical, speech, and occupational. Each form of therapy will help your child in various ways including communication, muscle strengthening, daily living skills, and social interaction.
  • Medication: Certain types of medication can help with children deal with the common tremors that come along with ataxic CP, such as primidone or other related medicines. Your physician should be able to asses what, if any, medication would work best for your child’s situation.