At a glance
Developmental-behavioral pediatricians treat kids with learning and behavioral issues.
These professionals can help diagnose complex issues, including ADHD.
You may be able to get a referral from your pediatrician.
If you’re worried that your child is showing signs of a developmental delay or behavior difficulties, who can help you figure out what’s going on? The first person to talk to is your child’s doctor or other health care provider. The doctor may refer you to a type of medical specialist who focuses on these issues. That professional is called a developmental-behavioral pediatrician.
These doctors are trained as pediatricians. But they go on for another three years of training in developmental and behavioral problems. They often work in metropolitan areas, so depending on where you live, you may not have easy access to one.
Here’s what you need to know about developmental-behavioral pediatricians.
What developmental-behavioral pediatricians do
The main role of developmental-behavioral pediatricians is to evaluate kids who aren’t developing, learning, or behaving the way their peers are. Kids may be referred to them through the early intervention program in their state. They’re also referred through their regular doctors.
These specialists can tease apart what you’re seeing and come up with a diagnosis. For example, if your child acts up at school and in other settings, you or the teacher may suspect your child has ADHD. But there are other issues that may look like , such as anxiety. And many kids will have more than one issue.
Here are some of the things developmental-behavioral pediatricians might evaluate for:
The evaluation process with a developmental-behavioral pediatrician
There’s a series of things a developmental-behavioral pediatrician may do as part of the evaluation. These include:
- Taking a detailed history of your child
- Doing a medical exam
- Observing and talking to your child
- Asking how your child acts in a variety of settings
- Seeking feedback from teachers at your child’s school or day care
After looking at all the information, the doctor may make a diagnosis. There might be cases where the doctor holds off making it right away, however. The diagnosis may not be clear yet, or there might not be a diagnosis that applies. The doctor may see your child periodically to monitor their development and progress with you.
What happens after a diagnosis
The developmental-behavioral pediatrician might continue to treat your child. Or the doctor might recommend other professionals who can help with ongoing treatment. Here are some other ways they might help:
- Prescribe and monitor medication if your child has an issue like ADHD or anxiety
- Help you better understand what’s behind your child’s behavior and come up with discipline strategies
- Recommend and services at school, and therapies outside of school
Getting answers about your child’s issues
If you think your child might have a developmental delay, learn more about early intervention evaluations. While the earlier the better, it’s never too late to find out if your child has a learning or thinking difference. Talk to your child’s doctor about different specialists who could help. You can also talk to your child’s school about having your child evaluated.
A developmental-behavioral pediatrician pulls together a range of information to make a diagnosis.
After making a diagnosis, the doctor can help with strategies to try at home.
The doctor may make recommendations to the school about accommodations.
About the author
About the author
Kate Kelly has been writing and editing for more than 20 years, with a focus on parenting.
Elizabeth Harstad, MD, MPH is a developmental-behavioral pediatrician at Boston Children’s Hospital.