Cerebral palsy can be accurately diagnosed by 6 months of age, researchers say, yet kids often aren’t flagged until they’re 1 or 2, potentially losing out on valuable early intervention.

In a study looking at a half-dozen scientific reviews and two sets of clinical guidelines from experts in the field, researchers found that doctors can make a reliable diagnosis of cerebral palsy in the first months of life.

The findings published in the September issue of JAMA Pediatrics indicate that three tools should be used to assess children under 5 months: neonatal magnetic resonance imaging, the Prechtl Qualitative Assessment of General Movements and the Hammersmith Infant Neurological Examination.

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In children over 5 months, doctors should use MRI, the Hammersmith Infant Neurological Examination and the Developmental Assessment of Young Children, the study said.

If a diagnosis is suspected, but can’t yet be verified, the researchers recommend that children be given an interim label of “high risk of cerebral palsy” and referred for early intervention specific to the condition.

“Early detection of high risk of cerebral palsy, followed by cerebral palsy-specific early intervention, is recommended and should be the standard of care to optimize infant neuroplasticity, prevent complications and enhance parent and caregiver well-being,” the study authors wrote.

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