Ataxic cerebral palsy is typically caused by damage to the structures surrounding the cerebellum. The cerebellum controls balance and also coordinates the movement of several groups of muscles. Ataxic cerebral palsy generally affects coordination and movement in the arms, legs and torso. It also causes poor muscle tone. The exact cause of ataxic cerebral palsy is unknown, but most experts believe it is the result of malformations of the cerebellum and its related structures. Oftentimes, ataxic cerebral palsy occurs because the cerebellum did not develop fully. Ataxic cerebral palsy can also be the result of encephalitis and other birth complications. Ataxic cerebral palsy can also manifest in early childhood, up to the age of three, as the result of disease (such as meningitis) or as the result of head trauma resulting in damage to the cerebellum and the surrounding area.
Infants with ataxic cerebral palsy typically have noticeably poor muscle tone and tend to be floppy in appearance, almost resembling a rag doll. Babies with ataxic cerebral palsy tend to develop slowly, missing major milestones such as walking and crawling. When they do reach these milestones, they experience a great deal of trouble with coordinating their movements. Muscle tone in people with ataxic cerebral palsy does increase with age, however, it never reaches normal levels.
The most common symptom of ataxic cerebral palsy are tremors, especially when carrying out precise, coordinated movements, such as holding a spoon. Tremors tend to get progressively worse when attempting voluntary movements like reaching for an object, as this typically causes the arm and hand to shake. As the person gets closer to accomplishing the task, the tremors intensify, making it even more difficult to complete.
Because of their poor balance, people with ataxic cerebral palsy usually walk with their feet unusually far apart. Because of their low muscle tone, their bodies are constantly trying to counter-balance, and they tend to look very unsteady as they walk. Ataxic cerebral palsy also affects a person’s depth-perception, making it difficult for people with the condition to judge their distance from an object. Learning difficulties are commonly associated with ataxic cerebral palsy.
As with other forms of cerebral palsy, ataxic cerebral palsy in non-progressive. The condition does not worsen with age through the tremors and lack of coordination may worsen with time. Ataxic cerebral palsy is also non-contagious and cannot be passed on to others, as it is not caused by a virus or bacteria.