The Difference between a General Pediatrician and a Developmental Pediatrician

A mother and a boy walk hand in hand for a morning appointment. First, they stopped by the child’s favorite restaurant to have some breakfast. While the child roams around the restaurant with very high energy for a typical morning, his mother prepares his food on a plate. She calls the child and he comes rushing—bumping the table—and the glass of water spilled. After eating, they proceed to the second floor of the building and enter the clinic of the boy’s pediatrician for his regular check-up. The doctor performs his routine and asks many questions while the boy’s energy is still high. The doctor’s eyebrows slightly creased. After almost an hour of questioning and check-up, with a soft voice and calm manner, the pediatrician advised that they must see a developmental pediatrician.

This suggestion might bother many caring mothers. Countless unsaid questions and worries about their children come to mind. Why see a developmental pediatrician? Is there something wrong with my child? Will my child be fine and normal as he or she grows? What do developmental pediatricians do? These are some of the many questions that run through a parent’s mind. Identifying the differences between a general pediatrician and a developmental pediatrician might answer some of these questions.

General Pediatrics vs Developmental Pediatrics

Care, diagnosis, and treatment of many medical conditions and concerns from infancy up to early adulthood are usually under the scope of general pediatricians. On the other hand, developmental-behavioral pediatricians or most commonly known as Developmental Pediatricians have advanced experiences and are well-trained in analyzing, determining, and providing treatment plans for numerous kinds of developmental problems and behavioral concerns of children. They are also trained to provide treatment sessions, document the progress and changes, and prescribe appropriate medication suitable to the child’s needs. They can also assist parents and families as the child goes through different levels of education.

Education

General Pediatricians and Developmental-Behavioral Pediatricians went to medical school and spent years acquiring the knowledge and skills needed for the field. Four years of study and a year of internship are the requirements in the United States. A medical student will have to choose whether he wants to further his studies by focusing on a subspecialty during the internship period. Medical students will, later on, be general pediatricians if they choose not to take up subspecialty; while medical students will, later on, be developmental-behavioral pediatricians if they choose otherwise and go through further three years of residency in the field of pediatrics in order to be equipped and skilled in diagnosing and treating any behavioral problems and concerns on the development of children. Both are medical doctors who graduated and passed a national licensure examination.

Functions

The general health and care of a child are under the scope of general pediatricians. They look into the child’s attributes such as social, mental, physical and behavioral, and they compare it to the attributes generally accepted as standard or norm. Should there be any differences, concerns, or delays, they refer it to developmental pediatricians. Specialists in the development and behavior of children are called developmental pediatricians. Some (but not limited to) examples of the conditions they diagnose and provide treatment plans for are: behavioral disorders like anxiety, Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and depression; learning disorders such as dyslexia and writing problems; developmental incapacities like spina bifida, mental retardation, visual and hearing defects and cerebral palsy, habit disorders; developmental delays such as cognitive and speech; and regulatory problems such as sleep and feeding difficulties and toilet-training problems.

Knowing the difference between a general pediatrician and a developmental pediatrician can guide loving parents in choosing the appropriate medical practitioner that can properly address their child’s medical needs.