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What is a neurodevelopmental evaluation?

A neurodevelopmental evaluation gives information about how a child is learning, growing, and developing over time. The goal of the evaluation is to assess all aspects of your child’s development including language, cognition, motor and social skills. During the evaluation, tests to assess these developmental skills are performed, as well as both neurological and physical examinations. Other testing such as brain imaging, genetic tests and other laboratory tests are frequently recommended to understand if there is a specific cause for the developmental differences. All of these results will help your doctor understand your child’s developmental profile and make personalized and specific recommendations for treatment, therapy and education.
Why see a neurologist for a developmental evaluation?

  • A neurologist focuses on understanding if there is a specific cause for a child’s neurodevelopmental disorder and works to identify what that specific cause may be. Identifying a specific reason for a child’s developmental delay may provide information about the anticipated trajectory for development and overall prognosis. It can also guide treatment if specific medical therapies are available and inform whether or not there are associated medical problems that need to be addressed.

  • A neurologist will also assess whether your child’s history is indicative of a progressive or degenerative neurological condition. The overall goal is to identify any potentially diagnosable or treatable medical conditions.

  • A neurologist will conduct a thorough neurological examination as part of the developmental evaluation.

  • A neurologist may use diagnostic tests such as brain MRIs to understand what the structure of the brain looks like.

  • A neurologist can treat disorders that co-occur with neurodevelopmental disorders. For example, children with autism spectrum disorder have risk for developing seizures. A neurologist can identify if a child is having seizures by conducting tests such as an electroencephalogram (EEG) and subsequently treating the seizures with anti-seizure medications, if necessary.

  • A neurologist very commonly orders genetic testing to identify genetic differences that may be causing a child’s neurodevelopmental disorder. Genetic differences or syndromes can be identified which give more specific information about the cause for the neurodevelopmental disorder. For example, Fragile X syndrome is the most common known inheritable cause of intellectual disability and is the most common known genetic cause for autism spectrum disorder. This can lead to identifying any associated medical problems for which a child may be at risk. Furthermore, some test results can help families make more informed decisions about having more children by providing information on recurrence risks in subsequent pregnancies. Above all, results of genetic testing can often provide a sense of relief and end a journey of searching for answers. By having an answer, families can avoid further unnecessary testing of a child and focus on available prevention, monitoring and treatment options.

Who needs a neurodevelopmental evaluation?

We evaluate infants, toddlers, school-aged children, and adolescents when there are concerns regarding development, learning or behavior. It is best to have a comprehensive neurodevelopmental evaluation if a child does not carry a specific diagnosis. Some of the most common concerns are, but not limited to, the following:
  • Developmental delay (speech, motor, global)
  • Developmental regression
  • Autism spectrum disorder
  • Intellectual disability or cognitive delay
  • Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
  • Learning difficulties/school failure
  • Behavioral problems

We also recommend a neurodevelopmental evaluation for the following concerns:
  • Child has been diagnosed with neurodevelopmental disorder but family is seeking a 2nd opinion
  • Pediatrician or other specialist has recommended a developmental evaluation
  • School recommended a developmental evaluation
  • Child was tested at school and family is seeking further clarification on a specific diagnosis
Click to see the steps in the evaluation process