Angie's LIST Guide to
Pediatric neurology

A pediatric neurologist specializes in diagnosing and treating nervous system disorders in children. Children often see this kind of specialist because of a tumor, developmental disorder or seizures or because of a pattern of unusual sensations, behaviors or movements.
 

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Children often are diagnosed with illnesses and conditions that affect adults, but because of their special needs, they are often referred to pediatric specialists. Specialists in all areas can provide treatment plans to improve health and quality of life.
Children often are diagnosed with illnesses and conditions that affect adults, but because of their special needs, they are often referred to pediatric specialists. Specialists in all areas can provide treatment plans to improve health and quality of life.
 
 

What a pediatric neurologist does

Disorders of the brain can exhibit many complex symptoms and can take the specialized training of a specialist to diagnose. The spinal cord and peripheral nerves carry the signals for movement and sensation between the brain and the rest of your body, and damage or diseases affecting these can result in weakness, paralysis, personality changes and abnormal sensations of burning, itching or tingling.

Damage to the nervous system can be permanent and should be identified and treated as soon as possible. Because children's brains are still developing, the diagnosis and treatment of neurological problems may be different than for adult patients.

A specialist in pediatric neurology treats any disorder of the nervous system that occurs in children, such as:

  • injuries to the brain, spinal cord or nerves
  • developmental disorders of the nervous system including Autism spectrum disorders
  • tumors affecting the brain, spinal cord or nerves
  • seizure disorders such as epilepsy
  • movement disorders 
  • behavioral and learning disorders, such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

When to see a neurologist

You will most likely seek a neurologist after a referral from your child's primary care physician, a pediatrician. Most neurologists won't accept appointments directly from patients. Neurologists rely on a doctor's determination that your child needs the care of a specialist. Your pediatrician will make a referral if there's evidence your child may have a nervous system problem. Symptoms that may lead to a referral to a pediatric neurology clinic include the following:

  • persistent or severe headaches
  • seizures
  • weakness, either overall or in particular limbs
  • missed developmental milestones
  • hearing or seeing things that aren't there
  • sudden changes in consciousness such as passing out or prolonged sleepiness
  • involuntary, uncontrollable or unusual movements
  • inappropriate sensations of burning, itching or pain
  • behavioral problems or difficulty in school

Choosing a pediatric neurologist

Your choices of pediatric neurologists may be very limited, particularly if you are far from a major medical center. First, determine which pediatric neurologists in your area accept your health insurance and are available to accept new patients. If you still have several choices available, choose a pediatric neurologist who makes both you and your child comfortable. If your pediatrician has concerns regarding a specific disorder, a pediatric neurologist may be available who specializes in the treatment of these disorders. Verify their qualifications, education, continuing education, accepted insurance plans and affiliated hospitals by consulting Angie's List, where you can also read other member's experiences. 

Your initial visit to a pediatric neurologist will consist of a physical exam and an in-depth history. If your child's problems have occurred during specific episodes, try to document the date, circumstances and, if possible, a video of the event. Bring documentation of your child's developmental milestones, such as speaking, crawling and walking. Symptoms that appear suddenly may have been progressing for a longer period of time. For instance, a problem with peripheral nerves could be causing your child to grow weaker. However, you may not notice until he or she is unable to stand. Reexamine family photos and videos with this in mind to provide the best history to your neurologist. Bring copies of your child's medical records, in case the neurologist's office has not received all of them. Your pediatric neurologist may or may not need to review each of these documents when diagnosing your child.

The pediatric neurologist may perform additional tests to aid in your child's diagnosis. The doctor may place electrodes on your child's body or scalp to measure the electrical activity of the nerves or brain, perform a blood test to check for markers of disease and take images of the brain, spinal cord or nerves to check for damage, developmental defects or the presence of a tumor. The physical exam will look at how your child moves and behaves to detect any abnormalities.

Unless instructed by your doctor, special preparation for the appointment, such as avoiding food or drink, is not necessary. The wait may be long, so prepare by bringing some toys and a snack.

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