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What Is Ataxic Cerebral Palsy?

Ataxic cerebral palsy is a neurological disorder characterized by problems with balance and coordination. It’s caused by brain damage or abnormal brain development, which may occur before, during or shortly after birth. Although the disorder is permanent, treatments are available that can help to improve the quality of life for affected children.

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Cerebral palsy, or CP, is a neurological disorder that can affect a person’s movement, balance and posture. Ataxic cerebral palsy is one type of cerebral palsy. Affected people have trouble with balance and coordination of movements.  

The National Institutes of Health recognize other types of cerebral palsy, including spastic CP, which causes stiffness and rigidity, and dyskinetic CP, which causes uncontrollable writhing movements. Some people have mixed CP, which includes symptoms of more than one type. 

Birth injuries are one of several potential causes of ataxic CP. If the brain is deprived of oxygen during birth, then permanent brain damage may result. This brain damage causes symptoms of cerebral palsy. The type of CP that develops will depend on which parts of the brain experienced damage. Failure of medical professionals to provide appropriate care before and during birth can greatly increase the risk of a birth injury. 

Prevalence of Ataxic Cerebral Palsy

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cerebral palsy is the most common motor disorder in childhood. Overall, 2010 estimates revealed that roughly one in 345 children born in the United States had been diagnosed with CP. 

 Ataxic cerebral palsy is less common than the most common type, spastic CP. The overall prevalence of ataxic CP has been estimated to be around 10 children per 100,000. 

Common Symptoms of Ataxic Cerebral Palsy

Babies or children with ataxic cerebral palsy may display a number of symptoms, including: 

  • Walking with feet spread widely apart 
  • Unsteady or imbalanced gait
  • Jerky movements
  • Trouble coordinating movements, such as reaching for an object
  • Trouble performing repetitive movements
  • Issues with depth perception
  • Tremors
  • Slurred or slow speech 

These symptoms are usually apparent in the first two years of life. However, for children with milder cases, the symptoms may not be noticed until the elementary school years, when the child begins learning to write. 

Common Causes of Ataxic Cerebral Palsy

Ataxic CP occurs because of damage to the cerebellum. This part of the brain is located under the bottom part of the back of the skull, just above where the spinal cord enters the brain. The cerebellum controls coordination of movements as well as balance and eye movement.  

Causes of ataxic CP include: 

Ataxic cerebral palsy can be caused by a birth injury. Oxygen deprivation during the birth process causes brain cells to die. Alternatively, a medical professional may fail to diagnose and appropriately treat jaundice in a newborn. Whereas birth defects are often unavoidable, birth injuries are the result of medical negligence 

When medical professionals fail to provide proper care before, during and after birth, the child may be permanently harmed. Medical professionals can be held liable for their lack of appropriate medical care and may be required to compensate people who have been harmed by their actions. 

Possible Complications of Ataxic Cerebral Palsy

People with any type of CP, including ataxic CP, may also suffer from a variety of related issues, including:  

  • Intellectual disability 
  • Seizures 
  • Vision problems 
  • Hearing problems 
  • Speech problems 

Not all children with ataxic CP will experience these complications, but they can occur for some children. 

Diagnosis of Ataxic Cerebral Palsy

The diagnosis of ataxic CP will begin with a thorough medical and neurological exam. The doctor will check the child’s reflexes, motor skills, muscle tone, posture, growth patterns and achievement of developmental milestones. 

 Although the exam may show that the child has ataxia, diagnostic tests will be used to determine the cause of the ataxia. These tests may include: 

  • MRI, CT scan and ultrasound of the brain 
  • Genetic testing 
  • Metabolic testing
  • Electroencephalography (EEG), which measures electrical signals produced by the brain
  • Electromyography (EMG), which measures a muscle’s response to electrical stimulation 

Evaluations by specialists are also commonly used in the diagnostic process. A thorough developmental evaluation is important. Evaluation of the child’s movement patterns by a physical therapist or specialist in physical medicine may also be useful. 

Vision and hearing tests are also important, as many children with CP have vision and hearing problems. 

Treatment and Prognosis for Ataxic Cerebral Palsy

Like other types of cerebral palsy, ataxic CP is a permanent condition. There is no known way to reverse the brain damage and cure the disorder. Children who are affected will be affected for life. 

However, there are treatments that can make a difference for children with ataxic CP. Some of the available treatment modalities include: 

  • Physical therapy  
  • Occupational therapy 
  • Speech therapy 
  • Orthotics (walkers or leg braces)
  • Medications for tremors and shakiness
  • Nutrition consultation 

Coping With Your Child’s Diagnosis of Ataxic Cerebral Palsy

As parents of children with CP, you may experience significant levels of stress and could benefit from connecting with other parents in a similar situation. This will provide you with emotional support, which is crucial for your own mental health. 

In addition, this type of support network allows you to share advice and resources for caring for a child with CP. There are many CP support groups available. Look for one in your community, or connect with other parents online through social media groups. 

In 2003, the CDC estimated the lifelong cost of caring for a child with CP at $921,000. This figure can be presumed to have increased in the nearly 20 years since this study was published. For most families, this cost creates a significant financial burden, which can be stressful for parents who are dealing with the effects of their child’s diagnosis. 

If your child’s ataxic cerebral palsy was caused by medical negligence, you may be eligible for compensation. If your case is successful, the medical professionals who harmed your child will be required to pay financial compensation to cover the costs of your child’s medical care, your family’s pain and suffering, and even lost wages from any unpaid leave you took to care for them. 

While this will not restore your child’s health, it can allow you to provide the best possible care for your child. You have a limited window of time after a diagnosis to file a birth injury lawsuit, subject to the statute of limitations that varies by state. 

If you believe that medical negligence may have caused your child’s ataxic cerebral palsy, we invite you to contact us for a free case review. Our birth injury lawyers have years of experience in holding medical professionals accountable for the harm they have caused. 

Contact the compassionate legal team at Levin & Perconti today for a free case evaluation. 

$6.5 Million


settlement for a young girl who suffered a brain injury during birth, resulting in cerebral palsy, after physicians failed to timely perform a c-section.

$4.5 Million


for a child who suffered brain damage causing cerebral palsy as a result of a family practice physician’s failure to perform a timely Caesarean section in the face of fetal distress.

$2.35 Million


for a child who suffered severe brain injury and cerebral palsy as the result of a uterine rupture in a vaginal birth after Caesarean (VBAC) delivery that could have been avoided.