Pediatric Neurodevelopmental Disabilities (NDD)

At Children’s Health℠, our nationally recognized specialists can work with your child to diagnose and manage challenges with a child’s behavior and their ability to think, process information and learn (cognition). Our care teams have broad experience helping children address issues that they may face in all areas of their life, including home, school and social life.

What are Pediatric Neurodevelopmental Disabilities?

Neurodevelopmental disabilities include a wide range of conditions, any of which may impair learning at any age and in degrees ranging from mild to profound disorders. These disabilities include but are not limited to: Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), low intellectual functioning, or specific learning disabilities such as dyslexia. NDDs also include conditions such as cerebral palsy (CP), genetic syndromes, and epilepsy, any of which may affect a child’s ability to learn in an academic setting as well as in social settings.

Children with neurodevelopmental disabilities may also have delays in social skills, such as making eye contact or maintaining a conversation. They may have delays learning to speak and even crawling and walking. Children with these disorders may also experience anxiety, frustration, anger, and this can be overwhelming not only for the child, but for their families as well.

What are the different types of Pediatric Neurodevelopmental Disabilities?

These disorders include different kinds of conditions, such as:

Autism spectrum disorder

Autism spectrum disorder is a condition that affects a child in many ways, including their ability to communicate, their social skills and their learning. A child with autism may behave differently in social situations than other kids their age.

Intellectual disabilities

Children with intellectual disabilities experience thinking delays. This means that they may find it harder to understand and process information compared with other children their age.

Learning disabilities

Children with learning disabilities usually can perform at the same level as their classmates in most academic areas, but they will have difficulty with one area, such as reading or doing math.

What are the signs and symptoms of Pediatric Neurodevelopmental Disabilities?

The signs and symptoms vary by the type of condition.

Children with autism may show the following signs and symptoms:

  • Anxiety
  • Delays in speaking and learning to communicate
  • Repetitive movements, such as flapping hands, flicking fingers, spinning
  • Tendency to focus on the same toy for hours
  • Delays in social skills, such as lack of eye contact
  • Tendency to get overstimulated easily

Children with intellectual disabilities might:

  • Have difficulty learning to speak
  • Have trouble taking in and learning new information in school and other settings
  • In general, have a harder time understanding things than other children their age

Children with learning disabilities typically do well in most subjects but may struggle or even get failing grades in one or two classes. Learning disabilities can affect a child’s ability to:

  • Read or write
  • Learn math
  • Stay organized
  • Pay attention
  • Tell time

How is Pediatric Neurodevelopmental Disabilities diagnosed?

A part of the Neurology Department, our care team focuses on measuring precisely how a child differs from others their age so that we can make a specific diagnosis. We may do genetic tests or imaging tests of the brain. We spend hours observing your child, watching how they perform different kinds of activities. And we use paper-and-pencil tests to assess a child on a wide range of abilities, including use of language and math, reasoning, short-term memory and the speed at which they process new information. These tests include:

What causes Pediatric Neurodevelopmental Disabilities?

The conditions can be caused by different factors, including:

  • Genetic, inherited from a family member or caused by a new change (mutation) in a gene
  • Exposure to environmental toxins, such as lead or recreational drugs, during pregnancy, infancy or childhood

How is Pediatric Neurodevelopmental Disabilities treated?

The UT Southwestern and Children's Health Center for Autism Care offers counseling and assessment by child psychiatrists, child psychologists and child neurologists.

Once we have a clear diagnosis, we can use a wide range of therapies, including:

  • Physical therapy (PT) - to help treat problems with your child’s muscles and joints
  • Occupational therapy (OT) - to work with your child on skills of daily living
  • Behavioral therapy, to work on emotional or mental health challenges
  • Academic coaching, to help if your child faces challenges at school

We can also review options for medications to help reduce a child’s anxiety, anger or other symptoms.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Will my child ever be able to do the things that other children do?

    We can work with you and your child to make sure that they have the support that they need to build on their strengths and flourish so that they will have lots of options as they grow up.

  • How can our school help our child?

    Our team also has training in special education for children with special needs. We can work closely with your child’s school so that they have access to what they need in the classroom and the rest of the learning environment.

  • Will my child with autism be able to go to college?

    We have seen children with autism take many paths. There are different options, opportunities and timelines for going to college. Children can go to public and private colleges and universities, go to a school with programs for students with special needs or start at community college.


  • Autism Speaks, an organization that provides advocacy and support for families and for individuals with autism.