How is Cerebral Palsy Diagnosed?

How Do Doctors Diagnose Cerebral Palsy?

Cerebral palsy requires a three-step diagnostic process:

  • Developmental Monitoring
  • Developmental Screening
  • Developmental and Medical Evaluations

Combined, these forms of evaluation help form a clearer understanding of the developmental progress of your child.

Developmental Monitoring

Developmental monitoring examines how your child is growing and developing, particularly compared to expected milestones. This is the least formal type of evaluation prior to a cerebral palsy diagnosis. In addition to the observations of healthcare providers and nurses, parents and other family members or caregivers may help observe the developmental progress of a child.

Developmental Screening

Developmental screening is the next step 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.

Developmental and Medical Evaluations

If a developmental screening indicates a potential problem, a physician will likely recommend more thorough developmental and medical evaluations. These evaluations are typically administered by a specialist. Depending on the results, a cerebral palsy diagnosis may be made and early intervention services and/or special treatments may be  recommended for your child.


What Types of Tests Help Diagnose Cerebral Palsy?

CT Scan

A computed tomography (CT) scan captures detailed images of the brain which are used by healthcare providers to detect possible damage or abnormalities of the cerebral cortex.

MRI Scan

A magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan, similar to a CT scan, can be used to capture detailed images of the brain. In addition to diagnosing cerebral palsy, the results of an MRI may also help determine its cause.

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 other parts of the body. This 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.  This is especially important when diagnosing cerebral palsy as the symptoms can overlap with epilepsy.

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.

Article Citations

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