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Ataxic Cerebral Palsy: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatments

Ataxic Cerebral Palsy: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatments

Ataxic Cerebral Palsy is a subtype of Cerebral Palsy, a non-progressive neurological condition that affects voluntary movement. Children with Ataxic Cerebral Palsy struggle with a characteristic lack of coordination and balance, as well as problems with speech and motor skills. As the least common type of Cerebral Palsy, it’s important to understand exactly what it looks like so that you know what to do if your child receives a diagnosis of it. Here, we offer a brief introduction to Ataxic Cerebral Palsy and its symptoms and treatment options.

Ataxic Cerebral Palsy

Ataxic Cerebral Palsy is a subtype of Cerebral Palsy, which refers to a group of neurological disorders that affect movement, muscle tone, coordination, and motor skills caused by damage or abnormalities in the developing brain. It typically occurs due to injury or infection before, during, or shortly after birth. Around 2.4% of Cerebral Palsy cases are Ataxic Cerebral Palsy. The word ‘ataxia’ is a Greek word that means ‘lack of order or coordination’. Children with this form of Cerebral Palsy, therefore, experience problems with balance, gait, and coordination, most visibly in the arms and legs. The condition is long term, but treatment helps in improving control over movements and completing daily tasks more effectively.

Symptoms of Ataxic Cerebral Palsy

Ataxic Cerebral Palsy tends to manifest first as hypotonia (lack of muscle tone) in the first six months to one year after birth. Children of this age may have unusually floppy limbs, which may improve as the child grows older but never reach fully normal levels. As they grow older, symptoms may manifest as delays in hitting developmental milestones such as rolling over, sitting up, standing, and walking. Common Ataxic Cerebral Palsy symptoms to watch out for include:

  • Unbalanced, jerky gait
  • Walking with legs unusually far apart
  • Poor balance
  • Trouble bringing hands together
  • Difficulty with fine motor skills like writing
  • ‘Intention’ tremors that kick in when attempting to reach out or perform a specific task
  • Difficulty with visual depth perception
  • Shakiness and tremors
  • Slow eye movements
  • Speech difficulties like scanning (speaking in a monotone and abnormal rhythm)
  • Difficulty chewing and swallowing
  • Impaired eye movement and control
  • Cognitive delays
  • Seizures (in some cases)

Causes and Risk Factors of Ataxic Cerebral Palsy

Ataxic Cerebral Palsy occurs due to damage to the cerebellum at, before, or shortly after birth. The cerebellum is responsible for balance and coordination as well as posture and communication, and fine-tunes movement commands for the rest of the body. When the cerebellum is damaged, motor signals cannot be relayed properly to the central nervous system and movement disorders ensue. Damage can occur due to:

  • Head trauma at the time of or shortly after being born
  • Maternal infections during pregnancy
  • Genetic conditions
  • Loss of oxygen to the brain of the fetus
  • Perinatal asphyxia
  • Fetal stroke, which can occur due to high blood pressure in the mother
  • Placental infections
  • Injuries due to negligence during the birthing process
  • Being shaken as a baby
  • Low birth weight
  • Multiple births (such as twins and triplets)

If the parent can prove that the Ataxic Cerebral Palsy is due to negligence or malpractice on the part of the healthcare provider, they can potentially seek compensation in court.

Diagnosing Ataxic Cerebral Palsy

There is no specific diagnostic test for Ataxic Cerebral Palsy. In the case of premature birth or other prenatal / postnatal conditions that are known risks for Cerebral Palsy, doctors may monitor them from an early age for signs.

If a child has been exhibiting symptoms, it is important to get a checkup immediately. The doctor will assess their abilities in the clinic setting, including muscle tone, reflexes, movements, and overall growth, and may run some general tests before recommending the patient to a specialist. The specialist will conduct a more detailed neurological test along with an MRI scan, a CT scan, electromyography (EMG), or electroencephalography (EEG). This not only checks for signs of brain and/or muscle damage but also eliminates other conditions that could be causing the symptoms. Some specialists will also recommend speech, hearing, and vision tests, as well as a visit to an orthopedic doctor for a more detailed examination of the child’s movements and reflexes.

Overall, most cases of Ataxic Cerebral Palsy can be diagnosed within the first two years of life. It may sometimes take a while to confirm the diagnosis, though, so parents should be patient and not panic.

Treatment for Ataxic Cerebral Palsy

There are several treatment options the doctor can recommend based on the child’s symptoms. Treatment focuses on improving bodily coordination and improving the child’s proficiency at daily tasks. Typically, an Ataxic Cerebral Palsy treatment plan will include:

  • Physical Therapy: This is among the most important components of Ataxic Cerebral Palsy treatment. Therapists will work with the child’s individual limitations and recommend exercises to improve strength and flexibility and to enable gross and fine motor skills. Types of Physical Therapy include developmental activities for walking, adaptive play, coordination exercises, strength training, and ways to prevent injury.
  • Occupational Therapy: This focuses on helping children perform daily tasks like eating and getting dressed, while also improving their hand-eye coordination. Therapists will use a variety of exercises and games to accomplish this. Occupational Therapy can also help improve cognitive ability and depth perception, allowing children to be more effective at their schoolwork and in social environments. Occupational therapy can take place at the therapist’s office, at home, or at the child’s school as part of their routine.
  • Speech Therapy: Low muscle tone can impair the child’s ability to speak and swallow correctly. Therapists can teach safe swallowing techniques and help children with proper articulation.
  • Massage therapy: This can help to ease muscle hypotonia and improve circulation around any bone/joint injuries. This may include electrical stimulation or the application of heat to ease pain
  • Assistive devices: Most children with Ataxic Cerebral Palsy will have trouble walking as they grow older. Devices like leg braces, walkers, or wheelchairs can enhance mobility. Therapists will work with children to show them how to use these devices safely without injuring or chafing themselves.
  • Diet: Healthcare teams will often recommend special nutrition to encourage growth and fitness in a child with Ataxic Cerebral Palsy. In general, a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein is ideal.
  • Medication: The doctor may recommend certain medicines to ease muscle stiffness or floppiness, as well as to treat any co-occurring conditions like epilepsy, ADHD, or incontinence.
  • Stem Cell Therapy: This is a revolutionary new treatment in which the patient’s own stem cells are used to grow healthy new cells and potentially reverse the brain damage causing Ataxic Cerebral Palsy. It is safe and effective, and patients can return home the same day as the treatment.

Parents and caregivers will need to help their child perform the exercises at home and ensure that the living space is adjusted as needed for the child’s safety. For instance, as children navigate poor coordination and unsteady gait, it might be a good idea to pad the floors with carpeting and cushion any hard edges on furniture so that the child doesn’t hurt themselves even if they fall.


  • What does ataxic CP look like?

The word ataxia means a lack of order or coordination. Patients with Ataxic Cerebral Palsy, therefore, display movements that are clumsy, uncoordinated, and jerky.

  • Does ataxic Cerebral Palsy affect intelligence?

While Ataxic Cerebral Palsy primarily affects motor functions on coordination and gait, it can also affect cognitive function depending on the extent of the brain damage.

  • What is tremor Cerebral Palsy?

Tremors occur due to damage to the part of the brain known as the cerebellum. In Ataxic Cerebral Palsy, children frequently experience intention tremors, in which the tremor kicks in when they are trying to perform a deliberate movement like picking up an object.

  • What are 3 early signs of Cerebral Palsy?

Three early signs that could indicate Cerebral Palsy include developmental delays in actions like crawling or sitting, abnormal posture, and abnormal muscle tone.

  • Is ataxic Cerebral Palsy genetic?

Ataxic Cerebral Palsy is the subtype of Cerebral Palsy with the largest genetic component. Up to 50% of cases are inherited in an autosomal recessive fashion.

  • Ataxic Cerebral Palsy affects what part of the brain?

Ataxic Cerebral Palsy occurs because of damage to the cerebellum, the part of the brain that controls coordination and balance.

  • What are the 4 types of Cerebral Palsy?

The four key types of Cerebral Palsy include Spastic, Dystonic, Ataxic and Mixed.

  • What does Ataxia look like in babies?

Among the most prominent Ataxic Cerebral Palsy symptoms is unsteady gait. Young children will typically walk with their legs much further apart than normal and may frequently fall over when trying to stand or walk.

  • What does Ataxia mean?

Ataxia refers to abnormal uncoordinated movements that occur due to a lack of muscle control over voluntary movements. Ataxia can affect gross and fine motor skills, speech, and eye movement.

  • What is the relationship between infection of the brain and Cerebral Palsy?

Certain types of infections such as German measles, toxoplasmosis, herpes, and cytomegalovirus can damage the brain of the developing fetus or newborn infant, which could lead to Cerebral Palsy later in life.

  • Does CP get worse with age?

Cerebral Palsy is a non-progressive disorder, which means that it will not worsen as the child grows older. 

  • Can a virus cause Cerebral Palsy?

Certain viral and bacterial infections, when contracted by either the pregnant mother or the infant, could cause brain damage that later leads to Cerebral Palsy.

In conclusion, life with Ataxic Cerebral Palsy can be difficult, but early intervention goes a long way in correcting the child’s movement disorders and helping them function better. Parents should regularly take their young children for check-ups so that any symptoms can be spotted and evaluated right away. With the right care and enough love and support from you, your child can take their Ataxic Cerebral Palsy diagnosis in their stride and lead a happy life.

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