What Is a Pediatric Neurologist?

Medically Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson, MD on September 20, 2023
3 min read

The brain and nervous system are the hub of everything the human body does, from breathing and keeping the heart beating to picking up a pencil and driving a car. When the nervous system isn’t working right, it can affect the entire body.

Neurologists are doctors who specialize in treating conditions that affect the brain and nervous system. This can include the brain, nerves, and spine. Problems in these areas can cause conditions like headaches, seizures, multiple sclerosis, or developmental delays. Pediatric neurologists specialize in treating these conditions in children.

While pediatric neurologists treat most conditions related to the nervous system, they work specifically with children and young people. As pediatric doctors, they generally treat children from birth through 18 or 19 years of age. They are trained to address a child’s unique needs, including child-specific conditions.

A pediatric neurologist will see a wide variety of patients. They treat more common neurological conditions like migraines, epilepsy, or cerebral palsy as well as complex or rare conditions like traumatic brain injury, metabolic disorders, and degenerative neurological conditions.

Because the field is so vast, some neurologists may choose to focus on specific conditions that are very complex or require extensive treatment. Examples include epilepsy, cerebral palsy, stroke, and brain tumors.

Pediatric neurologists are specialists, meaning they must go through a rigorous educational program that provides additional training in the area of their specialty.

This program typically includes:

  • A four-year undergraduate program that is usually pre-med or science-based
  • An average of four years of medical school
  • Training for child neurology, which usually begins at one of three points:
    • After their fourth year of medical school or osteopathic medical school
    • After completing their pediatric residency
    • Any time during the first three years of pediatric training
  • One year in internal medicine
  • One year of basic neuroscience

Once their training is complete, they must become a board-certified pediatric neurologist by passing the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology.

Any condition related to the brain or nervous system in children is treated by a pediatric neurologist. Some conditions may be genetic or congenital. In other cases, they may be the result of trauma. The range of conditions is extensive and can include muscular dystrophy (the weakening of muscles over time) and other muscle diseases, epilepsy, Tourette’s syndrome, and developmental conditions. 

Some doctors choose to specialize in a certain area instead of practicing general child neurology. Pediatric neurologist specialties may include autism, complex metabolic disorders, muscle and nerve diseases, genetic conditions, and malformations.

Your child’s pediatrician or family doctor may refer them to a pediatric neurologist if they experience:

  • Severe, frequent, or ongoing headaches
  • Poor balance
  • Unexplained loss of consciousness
  • Memory loss
  • Pain
  • Lack of sensation, numbness, or tingling 
  • Problems moving around
  • Tremors
  • Developmental delays
  • Walking issues
  • Unintentional jerks or tics
  • Seizures
  • Problems with coordination or other motor function

If your child is diagnosed with a neurological condition, they will likely have to see a pediatric neurologist for treatment or monitoring.

During a visit to a pediatric neurologist, your child will be assessed using several different techniques. For example, the doctor may use a reflex hammer on the knees and elbows to test reflexes. Or he or she may use lights to check nervous system function.

In order to assess your child’s balance, motor skills, mental status, and coordination, they may also ask your child to:

  • Walk or run
  • Stand from a sitting position
  • Report words or phrases
  • Answer questions

Because the pediatric neurologist works with children, they are specially trained to work with patients whose verbal skills are nonexistent or limited. However, they will often ask the parents or caregivers questions to better assess what is going on with the child.