What is Ataxic Cerebral Palsy and How Common Is It


Many people are familiar with a group of disorders called cerebral palsy. Cerebral refers to the brain, while palsy means weakness involving the muscles. The types of cerebral palsy vary, but they are classified as disorders that affect a person’s ability to move and maintain balance. One of the lesser known forms of cerebral palsy is ataxic cerebral palsy. People with ataxic cerebral palsy have a lack of balance and coordination. Ataxic cerebral palsy also affects a person’s depth perception. The word ataxia refers to the loss of control in body movements.

Ataxic cerebral palsy can affect every limb of the body. People often experience tremors in the arms and hands, making tasks, like writing or tying shoelaces, very difficult. Ataxic cerebral palsy also makes walking very difficult leaving falling often as a result. The disorder can cause people to walk with their feet spread out wider than their hips to try and maintain balance.

Oral and speech problems are also a characteristic of ataxic cerebral palsy. Their speech is usually monotone and they make pauses often. Despite this, most people still have good communication skills. A lack of muscle control also makes it difficult to eat and swallow. It can also delay intestinal and gastric responses which may cause health issues.

What causes it?

Ataxic cerebral palsy is caused when a person experiences an injury to the cerebellum before, during, or soon after they’re born. The cerebellum is the area of the brain that controls a person’s motor function. It translates signals from other parts of the brain to the central nervous system. Damage to the cerebellum can be caused by a loss of oxygen in the womb or during delivery, infections in the womb, head trauma, and brain hemorrhaging from a fetal stroke.

Some risk factors can increase a person’s chances of getting ataxic cerebral palsy. Poor maternal health and mother’s without proper vaccinations can increase the chance of their baby getting ataxic cerebral palsy. Child abuse can also increase the risk if the baby’s cerebellum is injured. Many of the risks and causes of ataxic cerebral palsy can also result in other health problems.

What are the treatments?

The nature of ataxic cerebral palsy makes it difficult to diagnose before a child is at least a year old. A child who doesn’t show any progression in their motor skills is an indication that they might have the disorder. Children can develop motor skills at different paces, so doctors rarely make a diagnosis for ataxic cerebral palsy early on. The sooner a child can be diagnosed with ataxic cerebral palsy and receive treatment for it, the better their chances of developing better motor skills are. A child with ataxic cerebral palsy should typically be diagnosed with the disorder by the time they’re three years old.

There are treatments available for those with ataxic cerebral palsy, but there is no cure for the disorder. Early intervention is the best route to help reduce symptoms, those who don’t receive care early on are at a large disadvantage.

Treatments for ataxic cerebral palsy include physical therapy to improve their muscle strength and balance. Occupational therapy can also help teach people with ataxic cerebral palsy how to do everyday tasks independently. Speech therapy may also help improve speech issues caused by the disorder.

Other options available for treatment include prescription medications that can help reduce symptoms. Common types of medications given are muscle relaxants and anti-anxiety medications. Stem cell transplants have also been effective in some patients. Many are given splints to help make living with ataxic cerebral palsy easier.

How common is ataxic cerebral palsy?

Cerebral palsy is the most common motor disability in children. The CDC estimates that around 1 in 323 children have some type of cerebral palsy. Ataxic cerebral palsy is a rare form of cerebral palsy and is the least common type. Around 5 to 10% of people with cerebral palsy have ataxic cerebral palsy. Despite ataxic cerebral palsy being a rare disorder, there are many resources available for those who do have it.

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