Some facts about Child Neurology

Child neurologists diagnose, treat, and manage diseases, disorders, or dysfunction of the central and peripheral nervous system (brain, spinal cord, nerves, and muscles).

These diseases include epilepsy, cerebral palsy, mental retardation, muscular dystrophy, headaches, metabolic and genetic diseases of the nervous system, learning, behavioral disorders, as well as nervous system complications of systemic diseases or infections (e.g meningitis and encephalitis), in infancy, childhood, and adolescence.

Child neurologists often work with neurosurgeons and multidisciplinary teams to jointly manage patients.

How to tell if there is a problem

Symptoms are either acute, subacute, or chronic, and may indicate loss of previous functioning, or delay in obtaining normal functioning, like walking, talking, and social interaction.  Loss of motor function can manifest as weakness or paralysis, loss of balance or fine motor coordination, or the development of abnormal, involuntary movements.

Loss of mental/behavioral function can appear as decline in school work, loss of previously acquired speech and language, memory or social behavior.  Loss of vision or hearing may indicate a neurologic problem.  Loss of consciousness might indicate a seizure disorder.  Delays in development may occur in motor, mental, behavioral or social realms.

Parents with concerns about their child's neurological development are advised to first discuss their concerns with their pediatrician, who can determine if consultation with a neurologist is necessary.


Measures to prevent neurologic disease by preventing accidents--"safe" toddler-proof kitchens and bathrooms to prevent accidental poisoning that can affect the brain; helmets for bicyclists, motorcyclists, skiers and snow boarders; proper use of seat belts and/or car seats to prevent serious head or spinal cord injury; no driving when drinking; life jackets when canoeing or boating to and proper supervision when swimming to prevent brain damage from drowning.

Many serious infections that might affect the brain and nervous system can be prevented by following recommended vaccination/immunization schedules.  Immunizations do not cause autism.  AIDS-Dementia Complex and the infectious complications of HIV that affect brain can be prevented by safe sex.  Meningitis vaccines in vulnerable places and times--epidemics in school or college-age children are recommended--can prevent meningococcal meningitis.  Lyme Disease and mosquito-borne summer encephalitides can be prevented by appropriate clothing in high risk endemic areas, mosquito repellent, and avoiding evening exposure.

Adolescent or young adult epileptic patients taking antiepileptic drugs who contemplate conceiving children can take folic acid supplements to reduce the risk of brain and spinal cord malformations in infants.  Many instances of "cerebral palsy" may be prevented by prompt and continuous prenatal care. 

What can we do as a community?  Know your family's medical history well.  This is particularly important in genetic diseases, which is an area that has rapidly developed because of DNA biotechnology and the Human Genome Project.  Be aware of potential environmental toxins, such as houses with lead paint, pesticides, contaminated water, wildlife, or food, or industrial chemical dumping sites.  Advocate for universal access to prenatal care and child care--a primary care physician for every child. If your child has a neurologic disorder or neurodevelopmental disability, become active in the voluntary organizations for those disorders, such as the Epilepsy Foundation, the Learning Disabilities Association, Children and Adults with Attention Deficit Disorder (CHADD), the Tourette Syndrome Association, the Association for Retarded Citizens (ARC) or the National Organization of Rare Disorders (NORD). Other communities include Early Intervention Programs in public school and pre-school handicapped programs.