Disability is a scary word, but you need to know if your baby has one so that you can get your baby the most direct and appropriate care possible. It’s not always easy to decide to test your baby for cerebral palsy or a different kind of birth injury, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done. It may also be something that you’re hesitant to commit to if you’re afraid of the cost. Ultimately, no matter the cost, if your child has a disability, you need to find out before the disability could get worse (as in the case of birth injuries). If you think your child may have a birth injury such as cerebral palsy, here is a list of steps to take to decide.
Listen to Your Instincts
Parents who have a child with cerebral palsy often say that they had a feeling that something was wrong. Sometimes, labor can go wrong and the parents get a sense that something isn’t right, either from something that the doctor or medical staff has said, or from reading their alerted expressions. Other times, parents don’t know that their baby has a disability until something happens during delayed or skipped developmental stages, such as the baby not sitting up, or the baby crawling in a very unusual –maybe even abnormal- way. The most important place to start when it comes to testing your child for cerebral palsy is to trust your instincts. If you continue to ignore the feeling that something is wrong, your child won’t get tested.
Observe Unusual Behaviors
No parent wants to be the over-reactive parent, the parent that calls the pediatrician’s office every 20 minutes to ask a question or ask if something is wrong. However, you also don’t want to be the parent that ignores a clear sign or symptom. The middle boundary, then, is to observe an usual or potentially abnormal behavior and then monitor it to see how frequent it is. For example, if you observe your baby’s arm in a writhing motion one time, you can convince yourself that it was a fluke. However, if your baby’s arm writhes often, this is a sign of cerebral palsy. Record how often it happens, and if it happens three times or more, call your pediatrician immediately. Some symptoms seem obvious enough to call the doctor about –such as a seizure- but even something small like the baby not sitting up when he or she is generally supposed to could be a sign of an overall problem, so call your doctor even out of precaution.
Call Your Pediatrician
Call your pediatrician and tell him or her exactly what you’ve observed in your child. (But if there have been severe symptoms such as paralysis or seizures, take your child to the emergency room.) Once you tell your doctor of the symptoms you’ve observed, your pediatrician can determine if the symptoms you’ve observed indicate cerebral palsy or any other form of a birth injury. This is probably at the point where you would make an appointment with your doctor if he or she believes that this symptom is indicative of a disability. You may also at this point ask for a number specific tests.
A general assessment may be one way of determining if your child has cerebral palsy. If your pediatrician has been practicing for a long time, he or she may be able to determine the signs and symptoms of cerebral palsy just by examining the child and performing a few muscle-related tests and a few cognitive-related tests. Your doctor will be looking for varying tone in muscle density (some muscles being too stiff and some muscles being too floppy) and will be looking for signs of intellectual disability.
Another test that your doctor can perform includes performing a PET scan. A PET scan is a “positron emission tomography” exam that uses radiation to produce 3-dimensional, color images of the functional processes of the human body. Tracking gamma rays, the PET scan observes communication between the brain and the rest of the body, determining if the messages from the brain are reaching the limbs. When a child has cerebral palsy, there are often problems with the brain communicating functional processes (most people inaccurately believe that cerebral palsy is a muscle-only-related disease), and the PET scan allows doctors to identify if the brain is transmitting instructions to the muscles as it should.
An EEG is an Electroencephalogram, a test that identifies if there are any abnormalities in the brain waves or electrical activity in the brain. Where a PET scan tracks the communication between the brain and the rest of the body through the central nervous system, the EEG exclusively tests the brain activity to be sure that it’s working properly. Sometimes when a child has cerebral palsy, there is a problem with the way that alpha, beta, delta, and theta waves are transmitted in the brain. Some children with cerebral palsy have deadened or dormant places in their brain and the EEG could help to see that.
Magnetic Resonance Imaging is a scan that can be conducted on the whole body to produce a density-related image of the body. When an MRI is used on the brain, it is generally to get an image of the brain and to see if there is a hemorrhage, inflammation, or anything abnormal. In the case of cerebral palsy, MRIs check if there is any myelination: a white, fatty substance creating a sheath around the axis cylinder or some nerve fibers. This sheath is another indication that there are deadened or paralyzed areas of the brain causing the cerebral palsy.
Diagnosing Cerebral Palsy
Your pediatrician will likely call for all of these tests when determining if your child has cerebral palsy, using every step as a way of determining the severity of the disability so as to prescribe the best care.