Angie's LIST Guide to
What is a pediatric neurologist?
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
behavioral and learning disorders, such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
When to see a pediatric 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
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.