The brain scans may help predict cerebral palsy's effects, giving parents more information about their child's condition, note the researchers.
They included Martin Bax, DM, FRCPCH, of the pediatrics department at Imperial College London. Their study appears in The Journal of the American Medical Association.
Cerebral palsy is a group of disorders that involve body movement and muscle coordination. Cerebral palsy can cause minimal disability in some and profound disability in others. It is a permanent condition, but treatment can help manage its effects.
Bax and colleagues studied 431 children with cerebral palsy at eight European study centers.
The kids were born between 1996 and 1999. They all got checkups; 351 of the children also got MRI brain scans.
The brain scans were only given to kids who were at least 1.5 years old.
The scans showed abnormal areas in the brains of all but 11% of the kids who got brain scans with normal findings.
The abnormal areas weren't all alike. Some were bigger or smaller, or in different parts of the brain. Those patterns lined up with certain cerebral palsy symptoms.
"This may be useful in helping parents, clinicians, and others involved in the care of children with CP (cerebral palsy) to understand the nature of the child's condition and to predict their needs in the future," the researchers write.
"Therefore, all children with CP should have an MRI scan," they write.
An editorial in the journal calls for children with cerebral palsy to get medical attention that focuses on their long-term well-being.
"In this way, an informed and compassionate science for children with neurodisability can be developed," writes editorialist Michael Msall, MD.
Msall works at the Kennedy Mental Retardation Center and the Institute of Molecular Pediatrics at the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine.