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What is a Child Neurologist?

neurology doc neurology doc

A child neurologist, or pediatric neurologist, is a doctor who treats children who have problems with their nervous system. Problems in the nervous system can start in the brain, spine, nerves, or muscles. These can lead to problems such as seizures, headaches, or developmental delays.

Child neurologists treat children from birth into young adulthood. They choose to make the care of children the core of their medical practice, and their advanced training and experience equip them to meet your child's unique needs.

What training do child neurologists have?

Child neurologists are medical doctors who have completed (in order):

  • Four years of medical school

  • At least 1 to 2 years of general pediatrics internship/residency

  • Three years of residency training in child neurology, which includes one year of training in adult neurology

  • Some child neurologists complete an additional 1-2 years of training called a fellowship, where they learn a sub-specialty within neurology, such as epilepsy, neuromuscular disease, or genetics.

In addition, most child neurologists have certification from the American Board of Pediatrics and the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology.

The terms intern, resident, and fellow correspond to internships, residencies, and fellowships. There are doctors at various levels who are training under more experienced doctors in their field.

What types of services do child neurologists provide?

Child neurologists often diagnose, treat, and manage the following conditions:

  • Seizures and epilepsy

  • Muscle problems which may cause weakness, such as: muscular dystrophy or neuropathy

  • Headaches, including migraines and concussions

  • Behavioral disorders, including attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), tics and Tourette Syndrome, and sleep problems

  • Autism

  • Developmental disorders, including cerebral palsy, delayed speech, delayed motor milestones, and coordination issues

  • Intellectual disability

  • Congenital malformations, which are problems in how the brain forms or develops

  • Stroke and traumatic brain injury (TBI)

  • Genetic conditions that affect the nervous system

  • Autoimmune problems that impact the brain and spinal cord (such as multiple sclerosis)

  • Infections or inflammation of the brain (such as meningitis or encephalitis)

  • Brain tumors

What types of tests do child neurologists order?

Child neurologists often make a diagnosis by hearing about your child's symptoms, their medical history, and physical exam, but at times, more tests are necessary to make a diagnosis.

Common tests that child neurologists order include:

  • EEG (electroencephalogram) is a test that looks for problems with the electrical activity in your brain. This test can be used to look for seizures, and to make sure your child's brain is making the expected types of electrical activity for their age.

  • MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) or CT scan are types of imaging tests used to take pictures of the brain and/or spine. These can look for signs of brain tumor, stroke, infection, multiple sclerosis, certain genetic conditions, and more.

  • Lumbar puncture (spinal tap) is a test where doctors insert a small needle in the lower back to take a sample of spinal fluid, which surrounds your brain and spinal cord. This can help look for signs of infection or inflammation.

  • Blood tests may be ordered for your child. These may include basic labs checking for electrolyte changes or signs of infection, or more complicated testing such as genetic tests for specific disorders.

Where can I find a child neurologist?

Child neurologists' practice in many different medical settings. They may work in children's hospitals, university medical centers, community-based outpatient practices, private offices, and clinics. 

Child neurologists are a part of a medical home.

In many cases, child neurologists work as a team with pediatricians or other primary care doctors. Child neurologists also often work closely with physical therapists, occupational therapists, and speech therapists to help your child develop and learn to the best of their potential. In addition, child neurologists may work with other pediatric specialists to care for children who have more complex or serious medical issues, such as epilepsy, birth defects, or genetic disorders. These are chronic conditions that require ongoing care and close follow-up throughout childhood and adolescence.

As the field of child neurology grows, some neurologists are becoming even more specialized and have more specific areas of expertise. With especially complex medical issues, sometimes your child may be referred to a neurologist with a specific area of interest, such as a neurologist who mainly treats children with strokes or one who specializes in treating children with seizures. Your pediatrician or local neurologist will be able to refer you to such a specialist if necessary. 

Last Updated
Section on Neurology (SONu) (Copyright @ 2018 American Academy of Pediatrics)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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