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Cerebral Palsy: Types, Causes, and Costs

Updated December 14, 2021 | By Wilson Kehoe Winingham staff

When an infant is born with cerebral palsy, the cause likely stems from one of two different incidents: those that naturally occurred during pregnancy or by avoidable medical mistakes made by the physician or other medical staff present during labor and delivery.

What Is Cerebral Palsy?

Cerebral palsy is the most common neurological disorder in children in the United States. It affects muscle movement and control, muscle tone and stiffness, and posture. It can be either congenital, meaning that a baby can be born with the disorder, or acquired, meaning that the disorder happened after birth due to a brain injury.

People with cerebral palsy may have vision impairments, difficulties swallowing, epilepsy, an inability to walk, a limited range of movement, or intellectual disabilities. These symptoms vary, however, as there is a range in the disorder’s severity.

Previously, it was believed that a disruption in oxygen to an infant’s brain, or Hypoxic Ischemic Encephalopathy (HIE), was the leading cause of cerebral palsy. Doctors and researchers now believe that malformation of the brain, abnormal brain development, and brain injuries are more common causes.

Cerebral palsy is typically diagnosable by age two or age three, when the child is expected to hit certain developmental milestones. While it is not a progressive disorder, it cannot be cured. Cerebral palsy is only treatable, and treatment can be costly.

Types of Cerebral Palsy

Cerebral palsy is categorized into two types: spastic and non-spastic. In some instances, a child won’t fall into either of these categories. This is referred to as mixed cerebral palsy. Types of cerebral palsy are as follows:

Spastic Cerebral Palsy

Spastic cerebral palsy is the most common and is characterized by hypertonia, or increased muscle tone. Muscle tone (residual muscle tension or tonus) is the amount of contraction that remains when a muscle is not actively working. This increased muscle tone (or contraction) results in stiff muscles which can make movement difficult or impossible. Spastic cerebral palsy is broken up into four types, and they’re organized by which muscles and limbs are affected:

  • Quadriplegia: The entire body is affected. The torso as well as the muscles that control the tongue, windpipe, and mouth are often impaired, making eating, drinking, and talking challenging
  • Monoplegia: One arm or leg is affected
  • Hemiplegia, diplegia, and paraplegia: One arm and one leg on the same side of the body are affected. These are the most common types of spastic cerebral palsy
  • Triplegia: Both arms and one leg, or both legs and one arm, are affected

Non-Spastic Cerebral Palsy

Non-spastic cerebral palsy is characterized by either decreased or fluctuating muscle tone. Decreased muscle tone results in weakening of the muscles and floppy movements, while fluctuating muscle tone results in variations of stiff and floppy movements. Non-spastic cerebral palsy is broken up into two types:

Ataxic Cerebral Palsy

Ataxic cerebral palsy is the rarest type, and it affects the entire body. Vision difficulties, like trouble with depth perception, may be present. Posture, movement, balance, coordination, and hand control may be impaired.


Dyskinetic cerebral palsy is associated with muscles fluctuating from limp to stiff. It involves jerky, involuntary movement of the hands, feet, neck, arms, legs, and sometimes torso. Dyskinetic cerebral palsy is further broken down into two subgroups:

  • Athetoid: Involves near-constant involuntary movements, specifically in the hands, arms, and legs. Individuals with athetoid cerebral palsy tend to develop problems with their cervical spine, potentially resulting in whole-body disability
  • Dystonia: Primarily affects the torso, often causing a twisted, locked posture

Levels of Severity in Cerebral Palsy

Cerebral palsy is classified on a scale of mild, moderate, and severe:

  • Mild: Child has the ability to move on their own without assistance and experiences no disruptions to normal daily activities
  • Moderate: Child will require the use of braces and medication with some assistance for normal daily activities
  • Severe: Child will require lifelong use of a wheelchair and will need assistance for all normal daily activities

Medical Negligence Associated with Cerebral Palsy

These scenarios of doctor or medical staff negligence are commonly associated with cerebral palsy:

  • Failure to diagnose or misdiagnose infections in the mother during pregnancy
  • Failure to identify a partial or total placental abruption
  • Failure to identify fetal distress
  • Delay or failure to perform a cesarean section when necessary
  • Failure to identify a ruptured membrane
  • Failure to identify umbilical cord complications
  • Failure to identify if a mother has been in pre-term birth
  • Wrongful use or overuse of equipment, such as forceps or vacuum extraction
  • Allowing the infant to remain in the birth canal too long
  • Failure to identify or treat seizures
  • Failure to identify and treat jaundice, which can lead to meningitis or kernicterus

Costs of Cerebral Palsy

Every parent wants the best for their child, but treatment for cerebral palsy can run as high as $1 million over the course of a lifetime for social, educational, medical, and rehabilitation accommodations as well as special equipment. That’s not to say that, with proper treatment, people with cerebral palsy can’t live a comfortable life. We know you want the absolute best care for your child and you’ll do everything in your power to give that to them.

Mistakes that cause a lifetime of complications should be repaid to those who were hurt, especially when the mistakes were avoidable.

Contact a Birth Injury Attorney Today

If you believe you have a case due to your child’s cerebral palsy, your first step is to contact an attorney for a medical review of your claim. Proving that cerebral palsy was caused by medical malpractice can be difficult and time-consuming. But if there is a determination of malpractice, a financial settlement not just for treatment costs, but for the medical mistake itself, may be available.

With a strong and trustworthy birth injury attorney, you’ll have someone advocating for what’s rightfully yours. Contact the Indianapolis Birth Injury Attorneys of Wilson Kehoe Winingham for a consultation to decide how to best move forward with your case. Call 317.920.6400 or fill out an online contact form for a free, no-obligation case evaluation.

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