The onset of multiple sclerosis (MS) in childhood poses diagnostic and therapeutic challenges, particularly if the symptoms of the first demyelinating event resemble acute disseminated encephalomyelitis (ADEM). MRI is an invaluable diagnostic tool but it lacks the specificity to distinguish ADEM from the first attack of MS. Advanced MRI techniques might have the required specificity to reveal whether the loss of integrity in non-lesional tissue occurs as a fundamental feature of MS. Although the onset of MS in childhood typically predicts a favourable short-term prognosis, some children are severely disabled, either physically or cognitively, and more than 50% are predicted to enter the secondary-progressive phase of the disease by the age of 30 years. Immunomodulatory therapies for MS and their safe application in children can improve long-term prognosis. Genetic and environmental factors, such as viral infection, might be uniquely amenable to study in paediatric patients with MS. Understanding the immunological consequences of these putative exposures will shed light on the early pathological changes in MS.