About cerebral palsy

Cerebral palsy is a group of disorders that affect movement and muscle tone or posture. It's caused by damage that occurs to the brain as it develops, most often before birth. UW Health Kids experts offer advanced care and treatment for children, teens and young adults with cerebral palsy.

Types and causes

Cerebral palsy outlined

As your child grows and develops, their brain makes connections with their muscles. These connections help your child balance, move and stand up straight. Damage during brain development can lead to a condition called cerebral palsy.

Cerebral palsy affects your child’s ability to move.

There are several different types of cerebral palsy, including:

  • Ataxic: Problems with balance and depth perception

  • Dyskinetic: Uncontrolled movements

  • Spastic: Stiffness and difficulty moving

The exact cause of cerebral palsy isn’t always known. But many things can lead to a cerebral palsy diagnosis. These include:

  • Brain damage in early infancy or early childhood

  • Brain infections during pregnancy

  • Genetic disorders

  • Medical problems experienced by the mother during pregnancy

  • Problems during birth

  • Stroke (before or after birth)

  • Untreated jaundice (yellowing of the skin and whites of eyes)

Symptoms and diagnosis

Signs, symptoms and associated health problems

Cerebral palsy most often affects babies born early or those born smaller than expected. Our doctors watch these infants closely for signs of cerebral palsy. We watch for:

  • Developmental delays, like not reaching for toys or sitting up at the right age

  • Inability to crawl, walk or move arms and legs as expected

  • Infant reflexes (such as sucking, startling and grasping) that don’t go away when expected

  • Signs that muscles are too tight or too loose

  • Uncoordinated movements

The effects of cerebral palsy can range from mild to severe. Damage to larger parts of the brain can affect more than movement. Children with more severe cerebral palsy also might experience:

  • Behavioral problems

  • Blindness or visual impairment

  • Hearing loss

  • Learning problems

  • Problems eating and swallowing

  • Seizures

  • Sleep disorders

  • Speech problems

  • Tooth decay

  • Weak or brittle bones (osteoporosis)

Our team conducts half-day clinic visits to fully understand your child’s unique needs. During these visits, we complete a physical exam, review your child’s health history and address any related health concerns .

Treatments and research

Helping your child reach their full potential

There is no cure for cerebral palsy, but it does not get worse over time. Many treatments and therapies can help your child as they grow and develop. These include:

  • Hearing therapy

  • Leg braces

  • Medication

  • Movement therapies (physical and occupational)

  • Speech therapy

  • Surgery

  • Wheelchairs

Our team continues to look for new ways to treat the issues associated with cerebral palsy. We partner with experts from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the internationally recognized Waisman Center to study hearing loss and speech and language development.

Smiling child with sign reading UW Health Kids
UW Health Kids
Our pediatric experts have served the special needs of children for more than 100 years. We focus on each child’s unique needs and offer social and emotional support to help you and your child face even the most complex condition. Our long history includes the creation of medical advances that save lives around the world. Together, we get your child back to health and enjoying being a kid.

Meet our team

Advocates for you and your child

The UW Health Kids team includes experts in neurology, nursing, occupational therapy, physical therapy, speech therapy and rehabilitation.

Our providers


Complex care close to you

We offer cerebral palsy care at the Waisman Center in Madison.