Dystonic, Dyskinetic and Athetoid Cerebral Palsy

cerebral palsyCerebral palsy is the result of some type of trauma to the brain either before a child is born or during the birthing process. In the case of athetoid cerebral palsy, the trauma involves damage done to the basal ganglia of the brain. This type of cerebral palsy is also referred to as dystonic or dyskinetic cerebral palsy. Located at the base of the forebrain, the basal ganglia are tasked with supporting voluntary muscle movements, eye movement, procedural learning, cognition and even emotions. When it becomes damaged, athetosis, dystonia and dyskensia may occur, all of which are symptoms of this type of cerebral palsy.

Symptoms and Characteristics

The difficult thing with ADCP, as this form of cerebral palsy is often called, is that it can involve so many different symptoms. One child with ACDP may have a whole host of disabilities to contend with while another has hardly any.


One common symptom of ADCP is called dystonia. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NIH), it’s a disorder that impacts voluntary muscle movement and is evident in a person by their abnormal posture.

Other symptoms to look out for include:

  • Repetitive movements
  • Prolonged movements
  • Pain from moving muscles
  • Resting the back of the head against a wall before trying to move
  • Putting a hand under the chin or behind the head before trying to move
  • Touching the face or chin before trying to move
  • Involuntary movements which are especially pronounced when the person is under stress, upset, tense, anxious or tired

Dystonia can affect any part of the body. General dystonia is the kind that affects the whole body. Others will only suffer from the disability in a leg or foot. This is called foot dystonia. Furthermore, some people only have dystonia on one side of their body, which is called hemidystonia. If it only impacts the neck muscles, it’s known as cervical dystonia.


With athetosis, the child’s body becomes either extremely relaxed or extremely stiff. These changes to their body will also be accompanied by various involuntary movements. Other characteristics of athetosis include:

  • Involuntary muscle movements that are very noticeable and make the person appear as though they are constantly on the move
  • Involuntary movement of the person’s mouth and lips, which can make eating, drinking and talking very difficult
  • Involuntary movements that usually only cease when the person falls asleep
  • Trouble holding everyday objects like forks, knives, spoons and writing utensils
  • An increase in involuntary movements when the person feels stressed or upset
  • Drooling caused by involuntary facial movements

Diagnosing ADCP

Diagnosing ADCP usually involves a combination of assessment tools and various tests that assess the child’s motor functions and any developmental delays. The most common test used is called the gross motor functioning classification system (GMFCS).

Physicians will also measure any abnormalities in the brain, specifically with the basal ganglia. Using magnetic reasoning imaging (MRI) allows them to look for those specifically associated with ADCP.

Treatment Options for ADCP

As with any type of cerebral palsy, there is no known cure for ADCP at this time. However, there is an assortment of treatment options available for helping children improve their motor and cognitive skills as well as those needed for everyday living. These forms of therapy include:

  • Occupational therapy
  • Physical therapy
  • Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS)
  • Medication for reducing involuntary movements and spasms

ADCP Prognosis

There is no doubt that ADCP will have a huge impact on the disabled person’s life, often making fairly simple tasks nearly impossible.  That being said, roughly half of those who get diagnosed with ADCP will go on to live a fulfilling life without too much difficulty engaging in light activities.

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