What is Ataxic Cerebral Palsy?

BrainYou may know about spastic cerebral palsy (CP) – the most common type. Yet many people are not aware of other types of cerebral palsy; especially its least common form, ataxic cerebral palsy. Ataxic cerebral palsy mainly affects balance, rather than muscle movement. If a doctor recently diagnosed your child with ataxic cerebral palsy, your search for information and guidance starts here.

Symptoms of Ataxic Cerebral Palsy

Only around 6% of people with cerebral palsy have ataxic CP. It is the least-diagnosed type of CP. The word ataxia means “incoordination.” The defining characteristics of ataxic CP have to do with balance, coordination, and depth perception. Although each child is unique and symptoms can vary depending on the severity of the disorder, several symptoms arise most often in children with ataxic CP. Signs and symptoms of ataxic cerebral palsy may include:

  • Unsteady walk (often with feet far apart)
  • Shaky movements or tremors
  • Pronounced balance problems, especially while walking
  • Difficulty with fast movements
  • Trouble with fine motor skills, such as writing
  • Difficulty controlling voluntary hand and arm movements
  • Lack of depth perception
  • Slow eye movements
  • Erratic speech or trouble talking

Ataxic cerebral palsy can affect one or more limbs, as well as a person’s hands and fingers. Parts of the face, head, and neck may also suffer the effects of this type of CP, resulting in difficulty feeding, swallowing, and talking. Early diagnosis and intervention can help combat and control the common symptoms of ataxic CP.

Diagnosing Ataxic Cerebral Palsy

Most children do not receive ataxic CP diagnoses until 18 to 24 months or older. Motor skills form the basis of the diagnosis process, so it is necessary for physicians to wait until a child is old enough to test motor skill development. Motor development delays up to the age of three can be a sign of ataxic cerebral palsy. The doctor may use a clinical assessment, motor skills tests, and a history of medical problems or traumas to diagnose this condition.

What Causes Ataxic Cerebral Palsy?

The type of cerebral palsy a child develops depends on the part of the brain that suffered damage or malformation during development. While spastic CP stems from damage to the motor cortex in the brain, ataxic cerebral palsy happens when the cerebellum suffers damage. The cerebellum is at the back of the skull. It regulates voluntary motor movements, including coordination, balance, and posture. It also regulates speech.

An infant may suffer damage to his or her cerebellum due to a traumatic brain injury, such as a car accident or fall shortly after birth. Stroke, infections, autoimmune diseases, and tumors in the brain can also damage the cerebellum and potentially cause ataxic cerebral palsy. Factors that may increase the risk of ataxic and other types of cerebral palsy include low birth weight, premature birth, infertility treatments, infections, jaundice, birth complications, and medical malpractice.

Outlook for People With Ataxic Cerebral Palsy

It may be possible to improve the effects of ataxic cerebral palsy with certain treatments and therapy programs. Early intervention to help with developmental and social skills from a young age can contribute to overall better quality of life. Physical, speech, and occupational therapies can help children with ataxic CP communicate better with others, strengthen weak muscles, and improve social interactions. Medications may also help to decrease muscle tremors.

Like all forms of cerebral palsy, people with ataxic CP have the condition for life. Symptoms will not worsen, however, over time. Ataxic CP is often less severe than many forms of spastic CP. Although a child may suffer challenges with balance and coordination, most can walk without assistive technologies and can live independently. They may have trouble controlling their hands or arms during fine motor functions, or have difficulty with fast movements. Yet, for the most part, people with ataxic CP can live normal lives.