Ataxic cerebral palsy is one of the three main types of cerebral palsy (see also: Spastic Cerebral Palsy and Athetoid Cerebral Palsy). It is derived from the word “ataxia”, meaning incoordination. In the context of cerebral palsy it means lack of voluntary muscular coordination. It most often results from disorders of the cerebellum part of the brain. It is a complex disability and diagnosis may be difficult in some cases. It is the least common type of cerebral palsy, making up around c.10% of cases.
What can cause it?
It is caused by damage to the cerebellum before, during or after birth. The cerebellum deals with balance and coordination. It is located towards the base of the brain.
It is typically congenital, meaning it is caused by developmental errors. However, it can also be caused by non-hereditary issues. The following are common causes:
- Infections in the womb
- Loss of oxygen from placental failure or breech birth
- Head trauma (during or after birth)
- Brain haemorrhaging from foetal stroke
What are its effects?
The brains motor function is deeply affected particularly in regards to coordination and balance. It usually affects the whole body, including all four limbs, the trunk, hands, face and the throat.
A person might have difficultly sitting or standing upright without arm rests. Similarly a person may have difficulty walking without support such as a walking frame or other mobility aid.
Communication may be difficult. Speech may be slurred, erratic or low pitched. There may be a struggle with expressing words or emotions. This may be treatable through speech therapy. Whether therapy will resolve or improve this will depend on a number of things such as the severity of the condition.
A secondary issue to this may be trouble swallowing.
Grasping and holding objects may also be difficult. This may lead to becoming dependent on others for assistance with eating, showering, toileting etc. A secondary issue to this may be tremors, especially when carrying out voluntary movements such as when writing with a pen.
All of the above tasks require fine motor skills.
Whilst there are many people with cerebral palsy who have learning difficulties, some people who have ataxic cerebral palsy have normal levels of intelligence.