How is cerebral palsy diagnosed?

Most children with cerebral palsy are diagnosed during their first 2 years of life. But if symptoms are mild, a health care provider may not be able to make a diagnosis before the age of 4 or 5.1,2

During regular well-baby and well-child visits, a child’s health care provider will examine1,2:

  • Growth and development
  • Muscle tone
  • Control of movement
  • Hearing and vision
  • Posture
  • Coordination and balance

If a health care provider finds signs of cerebral palsy during an examination, he or she may then use one or more brain scanning methods to look for damage in the brain. These methods may include1,2:

  • Ultrasound. This method is used most commonly in high-risk preterm infants to take pictures of the brain. Ultrasound is not as good as other methods at taking images of the brain, but it is the safest way to look at the brains of preterm infants.
  • Computed tomography (CT). CT uses X-rays to take pictures of the brain and can show areas that are damaged.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). MRI uses a computer, a magnetic field, and radio waves to create an image of the brain. It can show the location and type of damage in better detail than CT.
  • Electroencephalogram (EEG). If a child has had seizures, a health care provider may order this test to rule out another disorder such as epilepsy. Small disks called electrodes are placed on the scalp to measure the brain’s activity.

If a health care provider thinks that your child has cerebral palsy, he or she may then refer the child to specialists such as a pediatric neurologist (doctor who specializes in the brain and nervous system), a developmental pediatrician (doctor who specializes in child development), an ophthalmologist (eye doctor), or an otologist (hearing doctor), depending on the specific symptoms. These health care providers can help give a more accurate diagnosis and create a treatment plan.1,2


  1. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. (2013). Cerebral palsy: Hope through research. Retrieved August 10, 2013, from https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/Patient-Caregiver-Education/Hope-Through-Research/Cerebral-Palsy-Hope-Through-Research
  2. Ashwal, S., Russman, B. S., Blasco, P. A., Miller, G., Sandler, A., Shevell, M., et al. (2004). Practice parameter: Diagnostic assessment of the child with cerebral palsy. Report of the quality standards subcommittee of the American Academy of Neurology and the Practice Committee of the Child Neurology Society. Neurology, 62, 851–863.

top of pageBACK TO TOP