Here, we’ll discuss the different services that child neurologists perform, the various tools and techniques they use to treat their child patients, their broader work in building effective public policy to protect children’s brain health, and when it’s important to consider visiting a child neurologist.
What Does a Pediatric Neurologist Do?
Simply put, Child neurologists diagnose, monitor, and treat neurological conditions – a constellation of health conditions that can affect the brain, spinal cord, and/or nerves – in minor patients. Child neurologists are also known as pediatric neurologists.
Child neurology patients range in age from newborns to adolescents. While general neurologists specialize in brain health at all stages of life, child neurologists have received highly specific training to treat children.
Many child neurologists further refine their expertise by focusing on particular conditions affecting children’s neurological health, including child epilepsy or cerebral palsy.
Medical Tests that Child Neurologists Perform
Testing is often necessary for diagnosing neurological conditions as well as monitoring their progression and the effectiveness of treatments on an ongoing basis. The results of medical tests, combined with physical examinations and an overview of a child’s medical history, are used to chart a treatment protocol moving forward and, when necessary, to make adjustments.
The type of medical test that your child’s doctor orders will depend on the symptoms presented and the suspected underlying issue. The most common medical tests in the field of child neurology include:
- Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI). MRI machines use magnetic waves to create highly detailed images of the brain. Child neurologists order MRIs to examine neurological tissue, measure blood flow, and to detect bleeding or swelling (inflammation) in the brain, among other purposes.
- Computerized Tomography (CT Scan). CT scans take a series of x-rays of neurological tissues from different angles. These tests can identify blood clots, tumors, and brain trauma.
- Lumbar puncture (aka “spinal tap). Lumbar punctures take a small sample of cerebrospinal fluid for lab analysis. It is most commonly ordered in suspected cases of meningitis, encephalitis, and myelitis (spinal cord inflammation.
- Electroencephalogram (EEG). EEGs measure brainwave activity. They are useful for detecting the presence and severity of traumatic head injury, epilepsy, and brain tumors, among other neurological conditions.
The above is just a sample of the tests you might expect your child neurologist to order for your son or daughter. Often, the doctor may order a combination of tests to arrive at the most informed conclusion. Some conditions require testing on a routine basis.
Common Child Neurological Conditions That Child Neurologists Diagnose and Treat
As we mentioned previously, child neurologists are trained to diagnose and treat a broad spectrum of childhood illnesses impacting the brain and nervous system.
However, some conditions are more common than others. The most frequently diagnosed and treated conditions that child neurologists see in their patients on a routine basis include:
- Autism and Asperger’s
- Attention and behavioral challenges including ADHD
- Tourette Syndrome and similar motor/movement disorders
- Genetic conditions
- Cerebral palsy and other neuromuscular disorders
Again, there are quite literally thousands of types and sub-types of child neurological conditions, which is another reason why having an expert on your side is critical to reaching the correct diagnosis and, ultimately, achieving full recovery.
Primary Care Pediatricians (Child Doctors) Refer Patients to Child Neurologists for Specialized Care
The most common route through which child patients end up in the care of specialized child neurologists is referral through pediatricians. These doctors are trained in all aspects of child healthcare – physical, mental, and emotional well-being — but often the conditions they see in their child patients require more specialized care. That’s where child neurologists come in.
In this way, the pediatrician acts as the frontline healthcare provider, connecting his or her patients to more extensive help as it becomes necessary.
In general, here is how the referral process works:
- The pediatrician identifies a neurological condition in the patient such as child epilepsy or autism
- The doctor orders a referral to a nearby expert who can better treat the condition with targeted, specialized care
- The pediatrician’s office sends all relevant medical information such as previous imaging tests, blood work, and physical exam notes to the neurologist’s office for seamless care
Often, insurance complications arise during the referral process. Our staff at Child Neurology Center of Northwest Florida works with insurance providers on behalf of our patients so that you can focus on your child’s treatment and recovery.
Where Do Child Neurologists Work?
Because brain health is implicated in a number of health conditions and neurology has wide applications, child neurologists work in a diverse range of capacities.
Child neurologists most often work in:
- children’s hospitals
- university medical centers
- community-based outpatient practices
- private offices
- research institutes
- public health foundations
Child Neurologists Are Part of a Team of Child Healthcare Specialists
Just as the saying “it takes a village” to raise a child goes, so it is true with the medical profession. A child neurologist is one member of a larger network of child healthcare specialists that parents rely on to provide holistic care to their children.
Other members of your child’s medical team can include:
- Neonatologist (Preemie Doctor)
- Pediatric Cardiologist (Heart Doctor
- Pediatric Endocrinologist (Gland/Hormone Doctor)
- Developmental/Behavioral Pediatrician (Developmental/Behavioral Doctor)
- Pediatric Otolaryngologist (Ear, Nose and Throat Doctor – ENT)
- Pediatric Radiologist
- Pediatric Oncologist (Cancer Doctor)
For example, when a child neurologist detects a brain tumor in a patient, he or she will refer the parents to a pediatric oncologist for joint treatment – the pediatric oncologist being responsible for treating the cancer directly and the child neurologist tasked with protecting and optimizing the child’s brain health during and after treatment.
Child Neurologists Make Public Health Policy
In addition to their more common roles providing direct-to-patient care in clinical settings, child neurologists also craft public health policy designed to safeguard and improve children’s brain health at the population level.
For example, child neurologists at the World Health Organization (WHO) contributed to the medical manual titled Neurological disorders: public health challenges that aims to merge public health expertise with clinical neurological expertise to create effective public policy:
“Public health specialists focus on health and disease of entire populations rather than on individual patients, whereas neurologists usually treat one patient at a time for a specific neurological condition. These two approaches could be seen as being almost at the opposite ends of the health-care spectrum. What this… aims to do is to help build bridges between these two approaches.”
Learn More About Child Neurologists and Their Work
Child Neurology Center of Northwest Florida is the leading provider of cutting-edge neurological care in the state. To learn more about our decades-long work and how we help children live their best lives, please feel free to contact us.