What is Developmental Paediatrics and why see a Developmental Paediatrician?
The developmental paediatric field is an emerging subspecialty within paediatrics that focuses on child developmental and behavioural issues.
As awareness of child developmental & behavioural disorders has increased in recent decades, so has the number of cases identified. Current census results in Australia indicate that 1 in 5 preschool-aged children have potential developmental issues. Results are also similar in other countries such as in the U.S. where up to 1 in 6 children surveyed have been diagnosed with a developmental disability.
Prior to developmental paediatrics, child developmental & behavioural issues were seen by general paediatricians or child & adolescent psychiatrists. However, general paediatric training which is broader in nature does not extensively focus on developmental & behavioural issues. On the other hand, child & adolescent psychiatrists have extensive training in mental health but do not receive broader paediatric training.
As cases of child developmental & behavioural issues rose, the need for a new subspecialty was apparent. Hence, Developmental Paediatrics was born.
Who are Developmental Paediatricians?
Those who specialise in Developmental Paediatrics are called Developmental Paediatricians. They have years of extensive training and formalised experience in all aspects of child development & behavioural disorders in various settings.
The solid foundation that they have built through years of formal training and practical experience makes them experts in assessing and managing developmental & behavioural issues.
In Australia, Development Paediatricians are distinguished from other Paediatricians by being Fellows in Community Child Health with The Royal Australasian College of Physicians.
What do Developmental Paediatricians do and how can they help your child?
Common conditions that Developmental Paediatricians assess and treat are Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), ADHD, GDD, and other developmental delays & learning difficulties. They may work alone or in a multidisciplinary team with other health professionals, in particular child psychologists, speech pathologists, occupational therapists and behavioural therapists.
Prior to your child’s initial visit to a Developmental Paediatrician, detailed information may be required from you via a questionnaire. This will include questions about pregnancy, birth, early development (i.e. milestones achieved), social & communication skills, gross motor skills, interests and overall health. Pre-clinic questionnaires may also need to be completed by your child’s teachers. Furthermore, if your child is seeing a therapist, existing reports from them are also helpful.
During your visit, the Developmental Paediatrician will discuss your concerns regarding your child’s development. Also, they will also interact with your child in several ways. Depending on the age and nature of your child’s visit, the Developmental Paediatrician may engage your child in a play-based evaluation or conduct other testing. Often these evaluations can be performed over several sessions (usually 2 or 3) for the Developmental Paediatrician to complete their assessment.
When Developmental Paediatricians work in a multidisciplinary assessment team, usually 1 or 2 sessions are required for an assessment. This is because multidisciplinary team assessments draw upon the expertise & experience of other health professionals. Furthermore, a Developmental Paediatrician’s training and experience in leading multidisciplinary assessment teams can help effectively direct and focus the team on the areas of concern.
Hence, multidisciplinary assessments tend to be more comprehensive in nature. In the case of Autism assessments, The National Guideline for the Assessment and Diagnosis of Autism (https://www.autismcrc.com.au/access/national-guideline) recommend multidisciplinary assessments for children where signs of autism are subtle or have conditions that make diagnosis more complicated.
Once the assessments are performed, a Developmental Paediatrician provides feedback. They will help you identify the developmental issues that your child is facing and develop a management plan. Often, they will refer your child to a specific therapy or recommend whether another medical test is required.
Developmental Paediatricians can also provide ongoing reviews to monitor your child’s progress and will work with you to determine whether current treatment plans are effective or if a change is required. These reviews often require involvement and collaboration with your child’s current therapists and teachers. They may also assist you to request additional NDIS support/funding depending on your child’s needs.
When should I see a Developmental Paediatrician?
Plenty of research strongly suggests that early intervention and therapy increase the likelihood of an improved outcome for a child with developmental issues. The evidence for this is particularly strong for preschool-aged children or younger.
Therefore, if you or your child’s teacher have concerns about your child’s development, please consult a health professional as soon as possible. The areas of developmental concerns may typically include:
- Speech and language
- Social interaction skills and behavioural problems
- Learning difficulties
- Inattention, hyperactivity and impulsiveness
- Gross and fine motor skills
A good place to seek initial health advice will be your GP or a Child & Family Health Nurse at your local community health centre. If required, they will refer you to a Developmental Paediatrician.
- Developmental paediatrics is a subspecialty within paediatrics that focuses on child development and its associated disorders
- Developmental paediatricians are paediatricians who have undergone further training in developmental paediatrics and have extensive experience in all aspects of child development & behavioural disorders in various settings
- Developmental paediatricians can assess child development disorders such as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Global Development Delay (GDD), and Attention Deficit / Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
- Multidisciplinary approaches with Developmental Paediatricians involved offering a more comprehensive assessment for developmental & behavioural disorders
- Developmental paediatricians often work together with other professionals (i.e. teachers, psychologists, speech pathologists, occupational therapists, behavioural therapists) to prepare a management plan and review a child’s progress
- If you have developmental or behavioural concerns for your child, seek advice quickly. Early intervention can improve your child’s developmental outcome, particularly for preschool-aged children or younger