The symptoms of cerebral palsy normally become apparent during the first three years of a child's life.

A child with the condition may be slower in achieving important developmental goals, such as learning to crawl, walk or talk.

Main symptoms

The main symptoms largely depend on the specific form of cerebral palsy a person has.

The four main types of cerebral palsy are:

  • spastic cerebral palsy  when the muscles are weak and stiff (hypertonia), especially if moving them rapidly
  • dyskinetic cerebral palsy  when muscle tone (the unconscious ability to contract or relax muscles) varies between stiffness and floppiness (hypotonia), causing random and uncontrolled body movements (choreo-athetoid cerebral palsy), or involuntary spasms and postures (dystonic cerebral palsy) 
  • ataxic cerebral palsy  when a person has balance and co-ordination problems, resulting in jerky and clumsy movements; they may also experience tremors (involuntary shaking) in their hands
  • mixed cerebral palsy  when a person has features of more than one of the types mentioned above

The symptoms of cerebral palsy differ in severity from person to person. Some people will only have mild problems, while others will be severely disabled.

The areas affected by cerebral palsy can also vary. Some cases only affect one side of the body, some affect primarily the legs and some affect both the arms and legs.

Associated problems

People with cerebral palsy can also have a range of related conditions or problems, including:

  • repeated seizures or fits (epilepsy)
  • drooling and swallowing difficulties (dysphagia)
  • gasto-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD)
  • skeletal abnormalities, particularly hip dislocation or an abnormally curved spine (scoliosis)
  • difficulty controlling their bladder (urinary incontinence)
  • constipation
  • difficulties speaking (dysarthria)
  • visual impairment
  • hearing loss
  • learning difficulties (although intelligence is often unaffected)