How is Cerebral Palsy Diagnosed?

How do doctors diagnose cerebral palsy?

According to the CDC, diagnosing Cerebral Palsy takes place in three steps, including:

  • Developmental Monitoring
  • Developmental Screening
  • Developmental and Medical Evaluations

These steps, which each differ in scope and formality, work together to form an accurate picture of the developmental progress of your child.

What is developmental monitoring?

Developmental monitoring refers to the way your child is growing and developing and how that development compares to expected milestones. Of the 3 steps towards a diagnosis, this is the least formal and can be done not only by healthcare providers and nurses, but also by the parents and other family members or caregivers of the child.

What is developmental screening?

Developmental screening is the next step – after developmental monitoring – in diagnosing a child with cerebral palsy. It consists of a standardized checklist and/or questionnaire which compares your child’s development against a pre-established benchmark. According to The American Academy of Pediatrics, these screenings should occur at 9 months, 18 months, and 24 or 30 months.

What are developmental and medical evaluations?

Developmental and medical evaluations are the final step in the diagnostic process and occur after a developmental screening if that screening indicates a potential problem. This final evaluation is typically administered by a specialist and the result determines whether early intervention services and/or special treatments are required for your child.


What types of tests are done to diagnose cerebral palsy?

CT Scan

A computed tomography (CT) scan creates images and is used by healthcare providers to evaluate the brain of children with suspected – or diagnosed – cases of CP.

MRI Scan

A magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan, similar to a CT scan, can be used to further evaluate CP. Unfortunately, like a CT scan, studies have not found strong evidence that conducting an MRI improves the prognosis outcome.

PET Scan

A positron emission tomography (PET) scan is another test that helps healthcare providers understand how the tissues and organs are functioning in a patient’s body. A PET scan produces colored images of the brain and evaluates whether communication from the brain can reach some other parts of the body. it helps determine if brain damage may have taken place.


An electroencephalogram (EEG) is often used as a test of exclusion. That is, healthcare providers order the test to rule out other disorders such as epilepsy, which is especially important for a CP diagnosis because the symptoms can overlap.

Gross Motor Function Classification System

When it comes to the cerebral palsy gross motor function classification system(GMFCS), you have five different categories that you could fall into. Those who have a higher level will have a more severe case of it. This system applies to all the CP types and the different levels when it comes to severity.

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Treatment for a birth disorder is largely determined by the type of injury, diagnosis, and severity of the symptoms. For instance, a child diagnosed with cerebral palsy will assume a treatment plan that might include physical therapy, assistive devices, and medications. A child with Erb’s Palsy, on the other hand, will likely require only physical therapy for treatment.


Rae S, Editor

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Elena Amato Borrelli, Expert

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Article Citations

  1. CDC Diagnosis
  2. CDC Screening
  3. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
  4. The Cerebral Palsy Outreach Network