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Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics: Helping Children with Developmental Delays

In Brief

  • A neurodevelopmental pediatrician specializes in neurodevelopmental disabilities, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), learning disabilities and autism.
  • Parents or teachers usually identify learning disabilities when a child consistently has difficulty with reading, spelling, writing or completing math problems.
  • It is important to catch developmental delays as early as possible so that the specialist can work with the child’s parents and therapists to maximize their child’s overall developmental function.

Childhood milestones are something that every parent looks forward to when raising a child. If you are a parent, you are excited by that first smile, first word, first time rolling over, and that first step. These are all signs that your child is developing normally.

Shyamali Godbole, M.D.

When a child does not reach those milestones at the expected age, and a pediatrician expresses concern, it may be time to reach out to a neurodevelopmental pediatrician. This specialist can evaluate your child’s developmental delays and work out a management/treatment plan as necessary.  

A neurodevelopmental pediatrician specializes in neurodevelopmental disabilities, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and autism. This type of pediatrician typically receives referrals from general pediatricians or schools to evaluate children with developmental delays, learning disabilities and behavioral concerns. The physician begins with a comprehensive evaluation, which includes a physical as well as neurological and developmental assessments that can help the physician evaluate each individual patient’s needs.

“It is very important to catch developmental delays as early as possible so that the specialist can work with the child’s parents and therapists to maximize their overall developmental function. Studies have demonstrated that early diagnosis of delays in development, combined with early and appropriate intervention services, can lead to substantial gains,” says Shyamali Godbole, M.D., a neurodevelopmental pediatrician at Crozer-Chester Medical Center.

Parents or teachers usually identify learning disabilities when a child consistently has difficulty with reading, spelling, writing or completing math problems. A child who has trouble understanding or following directions, distinguishing right from left, reversing letters or numbers (confusing “b” and “d” or 12 and 21), or organizing and completing tasks in a timely fashion may also need to be evaluated.

A comprehensive evaluation by a developmental pediatrician can identify the possibility of a learning disability and the child’s potential strengths and weaknesses. Results of the evaluation are used to indicate the instructional needs and appropriate school placement, determine the possible need for medication to help with distractibility or hyperactivity, and determine the possible benefit of any additional therapies, such as speech therapy or individual/family psychotherapy, to maximize the child's learning potential and quality of life.

Some of the more common developmental delays that Godbole treats are attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), learning disabilities and autism.

Godbole explains that ADHD has a neurobiological basis. Theories differ on the causes, and researchers agree ADHD stems from multiple factors, but it is proven to be very strongly genetic or hereditary. The symptoms can worsen if the child lives within an unstructured, chaotic environment and does not receive the necessary instructional, behavioral and emotional support from his adult caretakers at home and in school.

Autism disorders are a spectrum of neurobiological and developmental disorders that are usually diagnosed during the first three years of life. Autistic children often have problems with speech, communication, and social interaction/play at their expected age levels.

Specialized behavioral and educational programs are designed to treat autism. Behavioral therapy is used to teach social skills, motor skills and cognitive (thinking) skills. Behavior modification is also useful in reducing or eliminating maladaptive behaviors. Individualized treatment planning for behavioral therapy is important as autistic children vary greatly in their developmental profiles and behavioral needs. Intensive, home-based behavioral therapy during early childhood with training involving the parents is considered to produce the best results. 

“I enjoy working closely with patients and families, building long-term relationships and watching their children reach their potential. The earlier you catch delays, the better for the child if you can quickly assess and develop a plan,” Godbole says.

For more information or to schedule an appointment for a pediatric neurodevelopmental evaluation, call (610) 619-7410.

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