Understanding Cerebral Palsy and Its Effects on Children

In order to understand cerebral palsy (CP), it is a good idea to categorize CP by the effects it has on a child’s movement and motor skills. Cerebral palsy is a lifelong condition that causes a child to have problems with movement, posture, balance and coordination. CP is caused by an injury to the developing brain. This brain injury is often caused by birth complications such as hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE), maternal infection, premature birth, umbilical cord problems, and others (1). 

What are the classifications of cerebral palsy?

One way to classify cerebral palsy is to break it down into two categories: spastic/pyramidal cerebral palsy and non-spastic/extrapyramidal CP.

Spastic/pyramidal cerebral palsy 

Spastic CP is the most common type of cerebral palsy, affecting 80% of all children who have CP (2). It is characterized by increased muscle contraction and rigidity that hinders a child’s voluntary movements. A child with spastic cerebral palsy has tight muscles that are unable to relax in some parts of the body. Joints that are affected become stiff and very hard to move. The child typically has problems controlling movements, poor coordination and balance, and difficulty talking and eating (3).

Types of spastic CP are grouped according to how many limbs are affected:

  • Hemiplegia or diplegia: One arm and one leg on the same side of the body are affected. 
  • Diplegia: Both legs (diplegia or paraplegia) are affected. Diplegia and hemiplegia are the most common types of spastic CP.
  • Monoplegia: Only one arm or leg is affected.
  • Quadriplegia: Both arms and both legs are affected. Usually the trunk and muscles that control the mouth, tongue, and windpipe are affected, too. This makes eating and talking difficult. Babies with spastic quadriplegia may:
    • Have problems sucking and swallowing.
    • Have a weak or shrill cry.
    • Have a very relaxed and floppy body, or a very stiff body. When held, they may arch their backs and extend their arms and legs.
    • Be irritable and jittery when awake. For example, they may startle easily.
    • Sleep a lot or show little interest in what is going on around them.
  • Triplegia: Either both arms and one leg or both legs and one arm are affected.

Non-spastic/extrapyramidal cerebral palsy

Non-spastic CP occurs when there is an injury to the part of the brain that controls the involuntary motor system. This type of CP is characterized by involuntary movements that can be exaggerated when the child has voluntary movements.

The nonspastic forms of cerebral palsy include dyskinetic cerebral palsy (athetoid and dystonic forms) and ataxic cerebral palsy.

Dyskinetic cerebral palsy is associated with muscle tone that fluctuates between being loose and very tight. In some cases, rapid and jerky or uncontrolled, slow, continuous movements occur involuntarily. These movements often affect the face, neck, hands, feet, arms, legs, and sometimes the torso.

  • Athetoid (hyperkinetic) CP characteristics include relaxed and limp muscles during sleep, with some involuntary jerking (chorea) or writhing (athetosis). If the face and mouth muscles are affected, problems may develop related to unusual facial expressions, drooling, speaking, and choking when sucking, drinking, and eating. In newborn babies, high bilirubin levels in the blood, if left untreated, can lead to brain damage in the basal ganglia (kernicterus), which can lead to athetoid cerebral palsy.
  • Dystonic CP means the body and neck are held in a stiff position.

Ataxic cerebral palsy can be caused by damage to the cerebellum. Ataxic CP occurs in 10% of all cases, at most (4). Some of these children have hypotonia (loose muscles) and tremors. Motor skills such as writing, typing, or using scissors might be affected, as well as balance, especially while walking. It is also common for these children to have difficulty with visual and/or auditory processing.

Legal help for children with cerebral palsy

 ABC Law Centers (Reiter & Walsh) is a national birth injury law firm that has been helping children with cerebral palsy for decades. Birth injury attorney Jesse Reiter, co-founder of the firm, has been focusing solely on birth injury cases for over 30 years, and most of his cases involve hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE) and cerebral palsy.

Jesse has been consistently recognized in U.S. News and World Report’s publication “Best Lawyers,” which also recognized ABC Law Centers in their publication “Best Law Firms.” Our attorneys have won numerous awards for their advocacy of children and are members of organizations such as the Birth Trauma Litigation Group (BTLG) and the Michigan Association for Justice (MAJ), among others.

If your child was diagnosed with  or a permanent disability, such as hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy (HIE), the lawyers at ABC Law Centers can help. We have helped children throughout the country obtain compensation for lifelong treatment, therapy, and a secure future, and we give personal attention to each child and family we represent. Our nationally-recognized firm has numerous multi-million dollar verdicts and settlements that attest to our success, and no fees are ever paid to our firm unless we win your case. Contact us today for a free consultation. Our award-winning lawyers are available 24/7 to speak with you.

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  1. Reiter, J. (2019, November 14). What Are the Causes of Cerebral Palsy? Retrieved January 23, 2021, from https://www.abclawcenters.com/frequently-asked-questions/what-is-cerebral-palsy-and-what-causes-it/
  2. What is Cerebral Palsy? (2020, September 11). Retrieved January 23, 2021, from https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/cp/facts.html
  3. Reiter, J. (2018, July 17). What does spastic cerebral palsy look like?: Cerebral Palsy FAQ. Retrieved January 23, 2021, from https://www.abclawcenters.com/frequently-asked-questions/what-causes-spastic-cerebral-palsy/
  4. Ataxic Cerebral Palsy. (2018, June 04). Retrieved January 23, 2021, from https://www.abclawcenters.com/cerebral-palsy/cerebral-palsy-overview/ataxic-cerebral-palsy/


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