Are you a parent who suspects their child may have very mild cerebral palsy?
Very mild cerebral palsy occurs when the amount of damage to the brain is so slight that the motor impairments may go unrecognized in the early years of childhood.
However, as children with mild cerebral palsy develop, you may notice some abnormal motor impairments.
This article will go over the various signs of cerebral palsy and explain the best ways to manage them.
Signs of Very Mild Cerebral Palsy
Lots of different factors can affect what cerebral palsy looks like in your child.
In fact, if you look at a picture of a child with very mild cerebral palsy and one without a disability, you probably wouldn’t be able to figure out which one is which.
Generally, very mild cerebral palsy isn’t outwardly noticeable until the child is moving around.
Signs of mild cerebral palsy include:
- Abnormal walking (walking on toes, walking on heels, continuous bending of the knees, walking with toes pointing inwards or outward, slight limping, etc.)
- Difficulty with fine motor skills
- Difficulties speaking or eating
- Slow movements
- Stiff movements
- Poor balance and coordination
- Poor posture
- Leaning/tilting towards one side
Forms of Mild Cerebral Palsy
Mildness describes the severity of cerebral palsy, but there are various forms of cerebral palsy that can be very mild. The type of CP a child has is primarily based on the location of the brain damage.
Spastic cerebral palsy is the most common type of cerebral palsy and is caused by damage to the motor cortex. It’s characterized by high muscle tone, which makes muscles stiff, leading to difficulties moving affected body parts.
Children can be affected in just the legs, only one side of their body, all over, or even in only 1 limb.
Dyskinetic cerebral palsy occurs when there’s damage to the basal ganglia. It results in uncontrollable movements due to changing muscle tone, causing the muscles to fluctuate between being stiff and floppy. It may also include writhing, twisting, repetitive actions, or dance-like movements. Intentional movements are more difficult to control in dyskinetic cerebral palsy.
Ataxic cerebral palsy occurs when there’s damage to the cerebellum and is characterized by poor balance and coordination.
Some children can even have mixed cerebral palsy and have a combination of symptoms from each type of CP.
The Downside to Very Mild Cerebral Palsy
While it’s definitely a blessing for your child to have very mild cerebral palsy, the downside is that it can go unnoticed and therefore untreated for years.
Early intervention is key for reducing the secondary effects of cerebral palsy like chronic pain and poor nutrition, as well as managing cerebral palsy symptoms.
When your child grows up with very mild cerebral palsy that goes undetected, the muscle tightness, poor balance, or lack of motor control has had a long time to manifest.
Your child may not realize that whatever they’re doing is abnormal because it’s all they’ve ever known.
Therefore, it becomes much more difficult to address and replace these habits.
Spasticity is the continuous contracting of muscles that causes movements to become stiff.
Spasticity is one of the biggest threats for people with very mild cerebral palsy because although cerebral palsy is not a progressive disease, spasticity can worsen over time, especially when it is not properly managed.
One of the most effective treatments for managing very mild cerebral palsy is utilizing orthotics.
If a child’s legs are affected, it’s essential that you address your child’s form before encouraging them to continue walking. Walking with an abnormal gait only reinforces poor walking habits, which may lead to chronic pain and increased difficulty with walking in the future.
If your child has spasticity in their legs, a brace can help hold the leg in place so it is positioned appropriately for walking.
This will help lengthen the muscle by gently stretching and preventing the leg from coiling up.
It will also help strengthen your leg muscles as it passively resists against the contraction.
It is important to practice walking with an appropriately fitted brace as needed in order to achieve a proper gait pattern.
On another note, when a child is having difficulties with spasticity in their hands or wrists, they may be recommended to use an orthotic called a splint. Similar to a brace, a splint will stretch the hand or wrist muscles for more functional positioning. For example, a wrist cockup splint may be used to appropriately position and support the wrist for writing.
Physicians can inject Botox into spastic muscles to help relieve high muscle tone.
Botox works by blocking overactive nerve signals for temporary spasticity relief. The injection typically lasts for a few months before the muscles start to tighten again.
Children with very mild cerebral palsy may benefit from Botox because it allows them to practice moving correctly and strengthen underused muscles. Even when the effects of Botox wear off, children often are able to maintain much of the progress they made while their spasticity was more controlled.
Just like Botox, baclofen is a medication that can relax spastic muscles.
It can be taken orally, injected, or pumped directly to the spinal cord.
Generally, children with very mild cerebral palsy will not get a baclofen pump because it requires surgery and regular refills.
It’s important that your child is taking the right dose of baclofen. Too much can work as a sedative and cause dizziness or fatigue.
The effects of baclofen typically only last a few hours, thus it needs to be taken regularly.
Physical therapy focuses on helping your child strengthen their muscles and learn proper form.
When you teach a child with very mild cerebral palsy to walk correctly, they’ll typically be able to demonstrate their ability to do so, but may quickly resort back to their previous gait pattern out of habit.
The only way to replace this habit is to have your child consistently practice walking with good form in order to strengthen that new set of neural pathways.
Physical therapy will help guide your child and find fun ways to motivate them to perform lots of repetitions.
Children with mild cerebral palsy may also benefit from participating in occupational therapy. Occupational therapists can work with your child to enhance their participation in daily activities, including play, school, and self-care. They may include fine motor activities, sensory integration, and self-care training during their treatments.
Addressing spasticity in the hands and arms may help children more easily complete writing, manipulation of toys, and self-care activities. Again, repetitively practicing activities facilitates brain rewiring to make these activities easier in the future. Occupational therapists mainly use engaging activities, as opposed to exercises, to address the needs of a child with mild cerebral palsy.
Speech therapists are able to address far more than just speech. Although not as common, some children with mild cerebral palsy have trouble with speaking, eating, or swallowing due to spasticity affecting facial muscles and neck muscles.
A speech therapist may be able to help with all of these areas. Speech therapists may use games, tongue and lip exercises, or various food consistencies to address the needs of children with cerebral palsy.
Living with Very Mild Cerebral Palsy
That’s a wrap! Very mild cerebral palsy may not seem like a big deal, but it’s important to learn how to manage it in order to prevent future complications.
Hopefully, this article helped you better understand the signs of very mild cerebral palsy and what you can do about it.
Early intervention is key, so make sure to see a doctor for an official diagnosis if you see any red flags. Good luck!