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Written by: Lakshmi Mahadevan, Ph.D., Associate Professor and Extension Specialist – Special Populations, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service.


There are several types of doctors/medical personnel parents or guardians will need to work with as they manage the health of their child with special needs. If your child is being evaluated for special needs or disabilities, you may be referred to a pediatric medical provider. Learn what you can expect from each type of practitioner.

Pediatricians:Pediatricians provide medical information about your child that include screening data about hearing, vision and growth.

Developmental-Behavioral Pediatricians: Developmental and behavioral pediatricians specialize in vision, hearing, motor skills, language development, and academic skill development. They are also qualified to prescribe medications to manageAttention Deficit/Hyperactive Disorder (AD/HD).

Child Psychiatrists:Psychiatrists specialize in diagnosing and treating mental, emotional and behavioral disorders, prescribe medication and provide psychotherapy. They can also address the anxiety and depression that often co-occur.

Pediatric Psychopharmacologists:A pediatric psychopharmacologist is a child and adolescent psychiatrist with extra training and experience in using medications to treat children with psychiatric disorders. Medication is usually only one part of a child’s treatment plan. Individual, family or group therapy may also be a part of the treatment plan.

Pediatric Neurologists: Neurologists evaluate and treat brain and central nervous system disorders. Some pediatric neurologists have training that qualifies them to work with children who have neurodevelopmental disorders, including AD/HD and Learning Disabilities.

Pediatric Psychiatric Nurse Practitioners: Pediatric psychiatric nurse practitioners work as part of a team in a pediatrician’s or psychiatrist’s office and are trained to treat children and teens with psychiatric disorders. They are often involved in treatment follow-up and monitoring.

Communicating with the Medical Practitioner: Maintain open communication and have reasonable expectations of your medical practitioner.

He or she should:

  • Help you monitor your child’s health, growth and development.
  • Diagnose special needs including disabilities.
  • Explain your child’s special needs, diagnoses and potential treatment.
  • Give you information about how to help meet your child’s needs and keep your child safe.
  • Provide referrals and work with specialists in the case of disabilities requiring special expertise.

You can aid communication by:

(1) Having detailed information about your child’s symptoms and be prepared to explain your concerns.

(2) Telling the practitioner that you trust him or her to care for your child.

(3) Asking questions.

(4) Reminding the practitioner that you want decisions, diagnoses, and prescriptions to be based on your child’s best interests.

(5) Using information, you have learned from the internet to enhance rather than overwhelm your discussion with the practitioner.

(6) Being open to various media – many practitioners now communicate electronically through email or apps.

(7) Following rules – arriving on time and filling in appropriate paperwork.

(8) Making time to be present during your child’s appointments rather than sending a substitute.

(9) Using good judgment about what needs to be prioritized during a phone call discussion – non-urgent questions can be asked later.

(10) Giving feedback to your practitioner about your visit – such as whether you felt rushed during the appointment or needed more information.

Additional References


10 Questions to Ask Your Child’s Doctors & Specialists Before Starting a Treatment

Military Health System

Working with Professionals: Getting Help for Your Child with Multiple Disabilities

Tips for Developing a Relationship with Your Child’s Doctor

TRICARE Military Hospitals & Clinics