Ataxic Cerebral Palsy is one of the nine disorders under the umbrella of cerebral palsy that affects balance and coordination. Ataxic CP is derived from the word “ataxia” which means to be without coordination. Ataxic CP is the least common form of cerebral palsy affecting 5 to 10% of children diagnosed. Damage to the white matter of the tissue at the base of the brain causes abnormalities in brain development. This affects the central nervous system that helps with balance, movement and coordination. Although every diagnosis is unique, Ataxic CP may also have conditions associated with speech impairment, intellectual disability and visual or hearing impairment.
The cause of Ataxia CP is often due to brain damage either during pregnancy, delivery or shortly after. Although in some cases the cause of cerebral palsy is unknown, depending on the type of cerebral palsy, causes can vary. Common reasons include a mother with infection and high blood pressure during pregnancy, low birth weight, lack of oxygen to the infant’s brain before or after delivery and head trauma that cause brain abnormalities. In some cases asphyxia and blood flow to the brain during delivery can lead to CP, as well as problems with the placenta. Diagnosis can occur between 12 to 18 months where symptoms begin to be more visible through developmental stages of motor gross skills. People with Ataxic cerebral palsy may have characteristics such as tremors or shakiness, trouble walking and difficulty maintaining balance. Children take wider steps to try to maintain stability and reduce the risk of falls. Ataxia affects the ability to perform tasks that require specific movement. For example, children may have difficulty tying their shoe laces, handwriting or holding objects that require precision. Often times because depth perception is altered children have more tremors in their attempt to reach or aim for specific objects, thus resulting in over reaching the object. In addition, muscles in the mouth and face are affected, therefore children have difficulty with speech, swallowing or have tendency to produce excessive saliva and drool. Because Ataxia affects limbs such as legs, arms and torso, people have difficulties carrying out daily tasks.
Admittedly, there is no cure for Ataxic cerebral palsy, however there are various interventions available to help improve the child’s quality of life physically, mentally and socially. These include early interventions with physical, occupational and speech therapy. Available treatments can improve muscle tone, motor skills, learning abilities and communication. Regular doctor visits throughout pregnancy and during the infant’s initial developmental stages can reduce the risk of Ataxic cerebral palsy. Additional resources include speech pathologist to assist with oral muscles. Because cerebral palsy may include hearing and vision impairment, visits to ophthalmologist (hearing) and optometrist (vision), can provide interventions such as hearing aid or eye glasses. Lastly, special education and additional in-home support services can provide assistance to minimize potential behavior problems or provide support to family. Depending on the severity of the case, surgery or medications can be prescribed to reduce spasticity in limbs; however, within this form of cerebral palsy such measures are less likely.
Proper assessment and treatment by a team of practitioners can provide children and people with Ataxic cerebral palsy the opportunity to live independently. Early interventions can evaluate the particular need of each client and address symptoms that cause challenges in completing daily tasks. Ensuring that pregnant women and infants are receiving proper medical treatment can reduce the risk of Ataxic cerebral palsy thus improving the person’s quality of life.
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