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Mild cerebral palsy is a neurological condition that is caused by minor damage to the brain. The damage usually is a result of an injury to the brain, illness or lack of oxygen at a very early age or even during fetal development. The term "cerebral palsy" means a disorder of movement related to the cerebrum, or brain. The mild form of the disorder is much less pronounced than other forms of cerebral palsy, and it results in clumsiness and poor motor skills. It is not a progressive disease, nor is it contagious.
The cause of mild cerebral palsy might be fetal infection or a trauma during delivery in which oxygen to the brain might have been interrupted briefly. Severe infection during the first year of life or severe jaundice also could be the cause in some cases. There are some cases, however, in which the cause cannot be determined.
The diagnosis of mild cerebral palsy usually is not made until the child with the disorder begins to walk and sometimes not for several years after that. A toddler or school-age child's excessive clumsiness, poor coordination and odd or unnatural movements usually are what first alerts parents that something is wrong. Mild cerebral palsy also can cause speech and cognition impairments.
A definitive diagnosis usually is made following a series of tests on the brain, such as computed tomography (CT) scans, magnetic resonance imaging tests (MRIs) and ultrasounds. Lab tests usually will be conducted to make sure that some other condition isn't presenting as mild cerebral palsy. After the diagnosis is made, the doctor will work with the child's parents to develop a treatment plan.
One of the common symptoms of the disorder is "toe walking." The child frequently will tip-toe and need to be reminded to walk with his or her feet flat on the floor. Toe-walking can be prominent, so sufferers of the disorder often develop problems with their ankle joints. Some children will complain about pain in the legs after short periods of activity.
It also is common to see a person with mild cerebral palsy unknowingly clenching his or her fist. Holding the arms straight into the air or excessive bending of the arms also can occur. Physical and occupational therapy early on can help to reduce these symptoms.
Each person with mild cerebral palsy is different. Symptoms might be more or less severe — or practically unnoticeable. Mild cerebral palsy is not debilitating, but school-age children sometimes suffer from embarrassment or low-self esteem because they are less coordinated than their peers. Patience and a positive, loving environment will help the child and family cope with the disorder.