Neurodevelopmental Program

Seattle Children’s Neurodevelopmental Program cares for children who have special needs because of a condition with their nervous system that they’ve had since birth or that was caused by disease or trauma. These issues with their nervous system, which includes the brain, can cause developmental disabilities or delays. Our team works together with families and others to care for, advocate for and enhance the lives of children with developmental delay.

We care for children who have:

  • Motor disabilities associated with spina bifida and cerebral palsy
  • Global developmental delays without an underlying known diagnosis
  • Genetic syndromes that cause developmental delay
  • Tourette syndrome
  • Been born prematurely
  • Had a brain injury at birth
  • A congenital brain malformation

Our focus is the care of children with special needs. We treat children who have behavioral issues, learning disabilities, school difficulties or mobility issues when the cause is developmental disabilities or delays. If your child has difficulties in 1 or more of these areas but the cause is not neurodevelopmental issues, please review our Refer a Patient page for guidance together with your primary care doctor.

Is Neurodevelopmental the right program for my child?

  • No, the Neurodevelopmental Program does not evaluate processing speed, working memory or cognitive skills in children. Seattle Children’s Neuropsychology clinic provides this kind of testing and evaluation. At the Neuropsychology clinic, your child is seen by a neuropsychologist and a psychometrist.

    Sometimes parents want their child to have a psychoeducational evaluation. This type of evaluation is arranged through your school district.

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  • No, the Neurodevelopmental Program does not do psychoeducational evaluations, sometimes called Individualized Education Program (IEP) evaluations.

    If your child is under 3, they can be evaluated at a local “early intervention” or “birth to 3” program. (In Washington state, contact Early Support for Infants & Toddlers.) For children 3 and older, your child’s school district is responsible for testing.

    If your child is home-schooled or attends private school, you can contact your local public school district about an evaluation. (In Washington state, if your child is home-schooled, you can also contact the Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction for information on testing.)

    A developmental psychologist in private practice can also provide a psychoeducational evaluation. (These evaluations are not covered by health insurance.)

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  • If your child is having academic trouble in school but does not have developmental delays or disabilities due to nervous system issues, our program is not the right place to seek care. See our Refer a Patient page together with your primary care doctor for guidance on the best clinic.  

    If your child has developmental delay or disability due to nervous system issues, our program can address academic difficulties as part of a comprehensive care plan.

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  • If your child is having behavior issues but does not have developmental delays or disabilities due to nervous system issues, our program is not the right place to seek care. See our Refer a Patient page together with your primary care doctor for guidance on the best clinic. 

    If your child has developmental delays or disabilities due to nervous system issues, our program can address behavior issues as part of a comprehensive care plan.

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  • If you are seeking an autism evaluation, our program is not the right place to seek care. We recommend that you talk to your primary care provider about whether Seattle Children’s Autism Center can help. In the meantime, see our Patient and Family Resources from the Autism Center

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    • Seattle Children’s Neurodevelopmental Program focuses on children who have special needs because of a condition with their nervous system that they’ve had since birth or that was caused by disease or trauma. The program focuses on enhancing quality of life by caring for the whole child. Your child’s team may include a developmental pediatrician, a neurodevelopmental-trained pediatric nurse practitioner, other medical specialists, nutritionists, social workers and therapists.
    • Seattle Children’s Neuropsychology clinic evaluates your child when there are concerns about learning or memory, attention, academic performance and behavioral or emotional functioning. Your child is seen by a neuropsychologist and a psychometrist. They can evaluate functions such as a child’s processing speed, working memory and cognitive skills.
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Why Choose Seattle Children’s Neurodevelopmental Program?

The Neurodevelopmental Program is one of the only programs of its kind in the Washington-Alaska-Montana-Idaho region. Our focus is multidisciplinary care that improves the quality of life for children who have developmental disabilities related to underlying issues with their nervous system. We see kids from birth to age 21 and stay involved with families long-term.

We treat the whole child

  • Our goal is to help your child realize their full potential over their lifetime. Each member of our team puts their unique set of skills to work for your child and family.
  • Our multidisciplinary team works together to help your child thrive at home, in school and in your community.
  • We work closely with providers in the community to ensure that your child’s care is coordinated, community-oriented and family-centered.
  • We use Reach Out and Read in our routine care. This is a national program that promotes the benefits of reading aloud to children starting in infancy and stresses the importance of reading on child development.

The experts you need are here

Our team of experts works with your child, your family and your primary care doctor to provide comprehensive care. Together, we design a care plan that fits into your family’s daily life and addresses your concerns and priorities.

  • Our doctors, nurses and nurse practitioners have special training in child development and disability. We are experienced in treating and communicating with children of all ages and abilities.
  • Registered dietitians understand the important role nutrition plays in brain growth and development. Dietitians can help families create and follow special diets to help your child thrive. They can also assess your child’s feeding skills, behaviors and swallowing safety if needed due to neurological issues.
  • Physical therapists help your child improve control of the large muscles they need for activities like walking, running and playing (gross motor skills). They work with your child to improve strength, flexibility and balance.
  • Occupational therapists evaluate and treat children who have problems using their muscles to eat, speak, draw or write (fine motor skills). They also help your child improve daily living skills such as feeding, dressing and toileting.
  • Speech therapists evaluate whether your child has trouble understanding what people say (receptive language delay) or trouble talking (expressive language delay). They also help evaluate your child’s overall communication and social skills.
  • Social workers connect families with community resources specific to their most challenging needs. These can include counseling, help with problem behaviors, mental health services, sports and camp programs, financial aid and respite for caregivers.

Conditions We Treat

We see children with developmental disabilities or delays caused by issues with their nervous system. Conditions we treat include:

  • The brain and nervous system work together to control the functions of the body. Simply put, the nervous system sends messages from the brain to different parts of the body, and it carries information from different parts of the body to the brain. Because the brain controls so much, problems with it and the nervous system can affect many parts of the body.

  • Cerebral palsy (CP) is a condition that affects your child’s muscle tone and ability to move in a coordinated way. It can lead to other health issues, including vision, hearing and speech problems and learning disabilities. CP is most often caused by damage to the brain. There is no cure for CP. Treatment, therapy, special equipment and, in some cases, surgery can help your child live with the condition.

  • Some babies are born with abnormal brain development or malformations in their cerebral cortex or cerebellum. We follow children long-term to ensure they are receiving appropriate therapies and maximize their quality of life.

  • Children who develop at a slower rate compared to other children in their age group may have what healthcare providers call developmental delays. Developmental delays can refer to the rate at which a child’s senses develop, how they grow socially or emotionally, how they move or how fast they learn language.

  • Many syndromes such as Down syndrome, Rett syndrome, Prader-Willi syndrome, fragile X syndrome and others are associated with developmental delays. We can diagnose, treat and provide ongoing specialized care for these conditions to maximize quality of life and promote success.

  • Lack of oxygen to the brain can cause injury to the tissue and associated problems with movement, cognition or language. We can follow children long-term to ensure they are receiving appropriate therapies and maximize their quality of life.

  • When a baby is born too early, they can have delayed development, problems with their vision and hearing and other medical issues. We follow children long-term to maximize quality of life.

  • Spina bifida is a neural tube defect. It happens when the neural tube, which includes the brain and spine of the embryo, does not close. This happens during the first month of pregnancy, often before the mother knows she is pregnant. There are many forms of neural tube defects, and they vary greatly in their severity. Some, such as spina bifida occulta, cause few, if any, problems. The most severe form, myelomeningocele, often causes loss of muscle use (paralysis) in the leg, bowel and bladder, along with learning disabilities. Read more about spina bifida. (PDF)

  • A Tourette syndrome (TS) diagnosis means a child has many different types of tics. Tics are sudden, repetitive movements (motor tics) or sudden, repetitive sounds (vocal tics). Doctors don’t know the exact cause of TS, but some research suggests that it occurs when there’s a problem with how nerves communicate in the brain.

Conditions We Don’t Treat

Our focus is treating children with developmental disabilities or delays caused by issues with their nervous system. Some of these children have autism spectrum disorders, behavioral or school issues or learning disabilities related to developmental disability or delay. We address these as part of their overall care. If your child is having behavioral or academic issues but does not have developmental disabilities or delays caused by issues with their nervous system, the Neurodevelopmental Program is not the right place to seek care. See our Refer a Patient page together with your primary care doctor for guidance on the best clinic. 

Services We Provide

  • The Developmental Neuropsychiatry (DNP) clinic integrates neurodevelopmental and psychiatric care for children with developmental disabilities who have both medical and behavioral or psychiatric issues. The clinic focuses on children who have genetic disorders and brain malformations. The DNP team includes a developmental pediatrician and a child psychiatrist who has expertise in the care of children with developmental disabilities. We work closely with primary care providers, other medical specialists, therapists, nutritionists, social workers, the inpatient psychiatry team, community mental health agencies and other community providers.

  • Advances in technology mean that doctors can diagnose neurodevelopmental disorders prenatally. Neurodevelopmental counseling has been an integral part of Seattle Children’s Prenatal Diagnosis and Treatment Program since it began in 2007. Our team of developmental pediatricians and pediatric neurologists provide comprehensive counseling to women carrying fetuses with abnormal central nervous system imaging findings. Conditions we identify during pregnancy include spina bifida, ventriculomegaly (enlarged ventricles in the brain), agenesis of the corpus callosum, Dandy-Walker malformation and other differences in the brain and spine. During prenatal consultations, we review how these conditions might affect your child’s communication, cognitive and social activities and motor development.

  • The Spina Bifida clinic provides ongoing medical and developmental care to children born with spina bifida or neural tube defects from birth through 21 years of age. The multidisciplinary team includes experts from developmental pediatrics, neurosurgery, nutrition, orthopedics, rehabilitation medicine, urology and social work.

Services Offered by the Center on Human Development and Disability at the University of Washington

Seattle Children’s Neurodevelopmental Program has a close relationship with the Center on Human Development and Disability (CHDD) at the University of Washington. The CHDD is one of the nation’s largest and most comprehensive interdisciplinary research and training centers focusing on a wide range of developmental disabilities. Many of our Neurodevelopmental Program physicians participate in both Neurodevelopmental clinics and CHDD clinics.

Most CHDD clinic teams include the following caregivers, who help evaluate your child and recommend care:

  • Developmental behavioral pediatrician
  • Psychologist
  • Physical therapist
  • Occupational therapist
  • Speech language pathologist
  • Audiologist
  • Social worker
  • Nutritionist

The Neurodevelopmental team or your primary care doctor may refer your child to one or more of these CHDD clinics:

  • The Cardiac Neurodevelopmental Clinic evaluates and treats children with complex congenital heart defects who had open heart surgery before their first birthday or have other risks associated with their congenital heart disease, such as genetic syndrome or a prolonged hospital stay. The clinic provides close follow-up throughout childhood and adolescence.

  • The Child Development Clinic diagnoses and assesses children from early childhood to adolescence when there is concern about possible neurodevelopmental disabilities.

  • The Down Syndrome Specialty Clinic specializes in and provides consultation for concerns about behavior and learning difficulties among children with Down syndrome.

  • The Infant Development Follow-up Clinic provides developmental assessments for children from birth to 5 years who were born prematurely. The clinic sees other children in this same age range, including those with in utero drug exposure, hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy at birth, congenital diaphragmatic hernia or those who have been on extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO)

  • The Late and Moderate Preterm Babies (LAMBs) Follow-up Clinic works with children who were born 4 to 8 weeks early. The clinic provides developmental assessment and ongoing monitoring.

Scheduling an Appointment With the Neurodevelopmental Program

  • If you would like a referral to the Neurodevelopmental Program, talk to your primary care doctor. If you already have a referral, please call 206-987-2210 if you live in the greater Seattle area, or:
  • If you already have an appointment, learn more about what to expect and how to prepare.
  • Learn about resources such as useful links, videos and recommended reading for you and your family.

Participate in Research

Help us answer questions about childhood health and illness and help other children in the future. Learn more about how your child can participate in research looking at various neurodevelopmental-related areas, including cerebral palsy, developmental delay or Tourette syndrome.

Contact Us

For more information, contact the Neurodevelopmental Program. If you would like an appointment, ask your child’s primary care doctor for a referral.

Providers, see how to refer a patient

Related Links

Seattle Children’s Programs

Center on Human Development and Disability (UW) Clinics

Other Resources

Paying for Care

Learn about paying for care at Seattle Children’s, including insurance coverage, billing and financial assistance.

For Healthcare Professionals