Microcephaly is a rare neurological condition in which an infant’s head is significantly smaller than the heads of other children of the same age and sex. Sometimes detected at birth, microcephaly usually is the result of the brain developing abnormally in the womb or not growing as it should after birth.

The cause of microcephaly cannot always be determined. However, there are certain conditions that might be related to its development.

Conditions that pose a risk for developing microcephaly include:

  • genetic or chromosomal abnormalities, such as Down syndrome
  • infections during pregnancy, such as rubella, toxoplasmosis, cytomegalovirus, chickenpox, and possibly the Zika virus
  • severe malnutrition
  • premature fusing of the skull suture line
  • cerebral anoxia, a condition involving decreased oxygen delivery to the brain of a fetus


Environmental factors can also increase the risk of microcephaly. If, while in the womb, a fetus is exposed to drugs, alcohol, or toxins, the risk of the infant developing a brain

Other signs and symptoms can vary widely from child to child. They can include:

  • poor weight gain and growth
  • poor appetite/feeding
  • difficulty with movement and balance
  • abnormal muscle tone (too loose, too tight)
  • speech delays
  • mild to severe learning disabilities

Some children with microcephaly also have other medical problems such as:

  • very short stature or dwarfism
  • facial deformities
  • seizures
  • vision and hearing problems
  • joint deformities (for example, in children with Zika infection)

What Is Occupational Therapy?

Occupational therapy (OT) helps kids who have complex conditions and disabilities build skills they need to perform everyday functions such as playing, dressing or taking part in daily activities.

Occupational therapists work with children to build confidence and independence through:

  • Muscle-strengthening activities.
  • Visual and motor skills development.
  • Changing activities or the environment to make it easier to complete a task.
  • Providing equipment and/or technology.

During a therapy session, your child might learn how to use adaptive equipment or perform activities in new ways. With help from therapists, your child works on:

  • Daily living skills such as dressing, feeding, grooming and bathing.
  • Small motor skills such as writing, using scissors and drawing.
  • Thinking and learning (cognitive) skills such as sticking to a schedule, learning to play a new game and following two-step directions.

Visual motor and visual perceptual skills such as using eye movement to explore and interact with the environment.

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