Children grow and develop on different timetables, often influenced by injury, illness or environmental conditions. Cerebral palsy, a brain injury disorder, originating from pre-birth, delivery or shortly after birth, can take several months to several years to exhibit enough indicators to warrant a diagnosis. Most children with CP are diagnosed by about 18 months because the common age of walking (between 10 and 14 months) came and went without the child mastering the task and the parents sought a medical explanation.
Accepting that your child may be developmentally delayed is not an easy pill to swallow and many parents are reluctant to do so, wanting instead to embrace that their child is just a “late bloomer.” Other parents don’t want to appear a “worry wart” and are therefore hesitant to bother doctors about “every little thing.” To those parents, while we all hope and pray for the best for our children, early diagnosis and intervention for ANY problem beats addressing it only when the symptoms are undeniable. If “better safe than sorry” ever applied, this is it. Also, doctors must ride that thin line between over-reacting and causing undue worry for the parents and missing a pre-diagnosis hunch. “Let’s wait and see,” is not the correct response to ongoing worries about your child’s developmental issues.
One of the more common causes of cerebral palsy is a sudden and significant lack of oxygen to the brain (brain asphyxia) during pregnancy or the birth process. However, young children can also experience this if they experience a near drowning, poisoning or choke on a foreign object, including food. If a child stops breathing for even a brief time, the child should see a doctor.
Because infant brain tissue is so soft and delicate, brain injuries can also occur during any blow to the head or from being violently shaken (shaken baby syndrome). Brains also need the active participation of parents and caregivers to ensure they receive proper stimulation and develop correctly. Children deprived of a loving, nurturing, stimulating environment can experience developmental delays regardless of the health of their brain. Bacterial and viral infections such as encephalitis and meningitis and can also lead to brain damage in the very young.
Signs of brain damage from any of these circumstances may not become evident for months or even years to come. Parents need to know what to look for and remain vigilant for developmental delays until the child is well into his or her school years.
By the time a child is 3 years old, they should be walking alone, climbing on and off furniture and able to stand on tiptoe. The manifestations of cerebral palsy vary greatly in terms of type and severity, so any “guide,” including this one, is just that: a guide. If you suspect developmental anomalies, seek appropriate health care professionals for guidance. Here are some warning signs specific to children between 2 and 3 years who may be experiencing developmental delays:
By 15 months, a child should understand the use of objects such as cutlery, brushes, telephones and bells. By 18 months, they should be walking. If walking, it should be in a heel-to-toe manner and not only on the toes. 2-year olds should be able to speak at least 15 words, put together 2-word sentences, follow simple instructions and push wheeled toys. Another warning sign is if a child suddenly regresses and loses one or more skills they once had.
By 36 months, children should be able to negotiate stairs, speak and eat without excessive drooling, stack 4 or more blocks, manipulate small objects, copy a circle, speak short phrases, participate in “pretend” play, exhibit an interest in other children, make eye contact and show an interest in toys.
Many of these problems can be helped with early intervention and therapy. Physical therapy aimed at strengthening muscles in the legs, jaw, mouth, tongue and core body can improve mobility, eating and communication skills, all of which provide wholesale benefits to health and well-being. Likewise, hearing and vision issues can be improved with adaptive equipment. The sooner your child with cerebral palsy gets help, the happier they will be and the more likely they will develop the skills required for a full and happy life.