Please note: This information was current at the time of publication. But medical information is always changing, and some information given here may be out of date. For regularly updated information on a variety of health topics, please visit, the AAFP patient education website.

Information from Your Family Doctor

Cerebral Palsy in Children: What You Should Know


Am Fam Physician. 2006 Jan 1;73(1):101-102.

  See related article on cerebral palsy.

What is cerebral palsy?

Cerebral palsy is a disability caused by infection or brain damage. Children with cerebral palsy may have stiff muscles or make unusual muscle movements. These symptoms make normal movements hard to do. Babies with cerebral palsy may be slow to roll over, sit, crawl, smile, or walk.

What causes brain damage?

Brain damage can happen anytime during pregnancy or up until the baby is about two years old. In most cases, doctors do not know what caused the damage. If you bled while you were pregnant, had a hard or long labor, if your baby was not healthy at birth, or if your baby was small or born early your child has a higher risk of cerebral palsy.

How can the doctor tell if my child has cerebral palsy?

Your doctor will look at your child’s muscles, posture, and reflexes. The doctor also will ask you when your child first walked, crawled, rolled over, or if your child uses one hand more than the other. Special tests also can help the doctor tell if your child has cerebral palsy.

Finally, the doctor may test to see if your child has any learning problems. Some children with cerebral palsy cannot use their mouth muscles to speak clearly. It is important not to assume these children have mental retardation because of speech problems.

What can I do if my child has cerebral palsy?

A care team will help make a treatment plan if your child is diagnosed with cerebral palsy. The team will help your child be as independent as possible. The care team includes you (the parents), your family doctor, and other specialists.

What will happen as my child grows up with cerebral palsy?

Cerebral palsy will not get better or worse over time, but new problems might come up as your child gets older. Talk to your doctor about long-term care of your child.

Remember to take care of your own physical and mental health and that of your other family members. As you get older, provide a current will and care instructions for your child.

Where can I get more information?

American Academy for Cerebral Palsy and Developmental Medicine

Web site:

Telephone: 847-698-1635

National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke

Web site:

Telephone: 1-800-352-9424

TTY (teletypewriter): 301-468-5981

Easter Seals

Web site:

Telephone: 1-800-221-6827

TTY: 312-726-4258


March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation

Web site:

Telephone: 1-888-663-4637

National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities

Web site:

Telephone (TTY): 1-800-695-0285

United Cerebral Palsy Association

Web site:

Telephone: 1-800-872-5827

TTY: 202-776-0406

This handout is provided to you by your family doctor and the American Academy of Family Physicians. Other health-related information is available from the AAFP online at

This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.


Copyright © 2006 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.
This content is owned by the AAFP. A person viewing it online may make one printout of the material and may use that printout only for his or her personal, non-commercial reference. This material may not otherwise be downloaded, copied, printed, stored, transmitted or reproduced in any medium, whether now known or later invented, except as authorized in writing by the AAFP. Contact for copyright questions and/or permission requests.

Want to use this article elsewhere? Get Permissions


Jan 2022

Access the latest issue of American Family Physician

Read the Issue

Email Alerts

Don't miss a single issue. Sign up for the free AFP email table of contents.

Sign Up Now

Navigate this Article