Glutaric aciduria type I (GA1) is a preventable cause of acute brain damage in early childhood, leading to a severe dystonic-dyskinetic disorder that is similar to cerebral palsy and ranges from extreme hypotonia to choreoathetosis to rigidity with spasticity. Degeneration of the putamen and caudate typically occurs between 6 and 18 months of age and is probably linked to changes in metabolic demand caused by normal maturational changes and superimposed catabolic stress. Recognition of this biochemical disorder before the brain has been injured is essential to outcome. Diagnosis depends upon the recognition of relatively non-specific physical findings such as hypotonia, irritability and macrocephaly, and on performance of urine organic acid quantification by gas chromatography–mass spectrometry or selective searches of urine or blood specimens by tandem mass spectrometry for glutarylcarnitine. The diagnosis may also be suggested by characteristic findings on neuroimaging. In selected patients diagnosis can only be reached by enzyme assay. Specific current management by the authors of this paper includes pharmacological doses of L-carnitine, as well as dietary protein restriction. Metabolic decompensation must be treated aggressively to avoid permanent brain damage. Multicentre studies are needed to establish best methods of diagnosis and optimal therapy of this disorder.