Ataxic Cerebral Palsy

By Jeff Rasansky

Ataxic Cerebral Palsy

Ataxic Cerebral Palsy

Ataxic (a-tax-ick) cerebral palsy is the rarest form of cerebral palsy, affecting only 5 to 10 percent of people suffering from the disorder. The severity of Ataxic cerebral palsy is determined by the amount of brain damage sustained.

The symptoms a child initially displays will be the symptoms they live with throughout life. With ataxic cerebral palsy, the brain has been damaged in an area responsible for coordination.

The main characteristics of other forms of cerebral palsy center on muscular contraction issues. The main characteristics of ataxic cerebral palsy are shakiness, poor balance and an unsteady gait.


What Does “Ataxic” Mean?

Ataxic means poor coordination. Different forms of the word ataxia are used to describe several disorders involving poor coordination. Sometimes people confuse Ataxic cerebral palsy with Friedrich’s Ataxia. However, while the symptoms are similar, ataxic cerebral palsy is not genetically passed from parent to child whereas Friedrich’s Ataxia genetically linked.


What are the Symptoms of Ataxic Cerebral Palsy?

This form of cerebral palsy still deals with muscular control problems but instead of stiff, tight muscles, a person with ataxic cerebral palsy is plagued with low muscle tone. Sometimes people with Ataxic cerebral palsy are described as looking flaccid or limp.

People with ataxic cerebral palsy experience a difficulty in keeping their limbs steady, called dysmetria. Reaching for objects can initiate an “intention tremor.” The tremor gets worse as the person’s hand gets closer to the object they are trying to reach. Tremors also occur when an Ataxic cerebral palsy sufferer attempts actions requiring specific muscle control, such as writing. Difficulties with motor skills become much more pronounced the longer the person with ataxic cerebral palsy attempts motor specific tasks.

Brain damage to the cerebellum or spinal cord causing ataxic cerebral palsy results in difficulties maintaining balance. Some wobbling of the trunk, called titubation, occurs as the person continually tries to balance their body. Since balance is impaired, people with Ataxic cerebral palsy often walk with an ungainly gait. Many people with Ataxic cerebral palsy will attempt to correct their balance by walking with their feet far apart in a staggering, unsteady manner.

Ataxic cerebral palsy affects the entire body rather than just certain limbs or muscle groups. The muscles of the face can be affected as well. The most common facial ataxic symptoms are jerky speech patterns and abnormal eye movements called nystagmus.


What Questions Should I ask My Doctor?

Understanding more about cerebral palsy in general is always helpful. Research the signs and symptoms of Ataxic cerebral palsy and educate yourself on available treatments and advances in assisted technology. Talk with your doctor about ataxic symptoms displayed and get a clear understanding of therapies that can help improve motor skills. Ask if the doctor intends to prescribe drugs, and if so, to describe the expected benefits. Health care professionals can assist you in forming a care plan and provide you with a realistic view of the long term outlook for a person with ataxic cerebral palsy.


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