If your child is being evaluated for learning or attention issues, you may be referred to a pediatric medical provider. These specialists are qualified to diagnose and/or treat disorders that impact learning and attention, including attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Some also prescribe medication and provide non-academic therapies. Learn what you can expect from each type of specialist.
Pediatricians are medical doctors who treat children from infancy through the teenage years. You’re probably used to taking your child to a pediatrician for regular checkups and when he’s ill. Pediatricians are in a unique position to offer information about a child’s “normal” course of development.
When problems with learning and attention arise, pediatricians can provide medical information about your child. This might include screening data about hearing, vision and growth. If the school is evaluating your child for special education services, ask them to seek input from your child’s pediatrician.
Most general pediatricians are familiar with ADHD and some have working knowledge of different types of learning disabilities (LD). However, most rely on other specialists to determine if a child has a specific learning disability.
Developmental and behavioral pediatricians have special training and experience in evaluating and treating developmental, learning and mental health issues. They pay close attention to how the whole child develops. They look at vision, hearing, motor skills, language development, academic progress and more. They’re also qualified to prescribe medications like those used to manage ADHD.
Psychiatrists are medical doctors who specialize in diagnosing and treating mental, emotional and behavioral disorders. Some psychiatrists treat both children and adults. Child and adolescent psychiatrists have more specialized training in mental health and developmental disorders in children and teens.
These specialists are qualified to diagnose these conditions, prescribe medication and provide psychotherapy. They can also address the anxiety and depression that often co-occur with learning and attention issues in children and teenagers.
A pediatric psychopharmacologist is a child and adolescent psychiatrist with extra training and experience in using medications to treat kids with psychiatric disorders. Medication is usually only one part of a child’s treatment plan.
Individual, family or group therapy may part of the treatment plan. A pediatric psychopharmacologist will either provide such therapy or refer a child and family to another specialist.
Neurologists evaluate and treat brain and central nervous system disorders. Some pediatric neurologists have training that makes them qualified to work with kids who have neurodevelopmental disorders, including ADHD and LD.
Pediatric Psychiatric Nurse Practitioners
Pediatric nurse practitioners are qualified to provide many of the same services as doctors. For example, they do routine physical exams and prescribe medication.
Pediatric psychiatric nurse practitioners are trained to treat children and teens with psychiatric disorders. They usually work as part of a team in a pediatrician’s or psychiatrist’s office. They are often involved in treatment follow-up and monitoring.
Depending on your child’s issues, he may see just one—or several—of these specialists. Some of them evaluate and treat the “whole child.” Others focus on just one or two aspects, such as medication. Whatever your child’s situation, knowing what each of these professionals can do will prepare you for the journey.