And parents often need help determining if their child is reaching developmental milestones at a normal rate.
To address that need, San Juan Regional Medical Center has opened a new Pediatric Rehabilitation Outpatient Center at 810 West Maple St.
The center is the only outpatient rehabilitation center serving pediatrics in the Four Corners region. It provides diagnostics and therapy to physician-referred children from birth to 18 who have developmental issues or delays.
The spacious center, which opened its doors Feb. 4, contains treatment rooms for speech, feeding/swallowing and physical therapies.
Pediatric coordinator Crystal Doerr, who is also a speech and language therapist, explained that some children have trouble transitioning from the bottle to solid food or have reactions to certain food textures and then cough, choke and gag. Other developmental delays concern speech and language, while some children have problems with gross or fine motor skills and need occupational therapy.
"It's a common misconception that occupational therapy only pertains to jobs," said Diane McCall, the center's rehab manager.
She explained that the job of a child is to play, so occupational therapy deals with helping a child learn to play and how to do everyday things like getting dressed and brushing his or her teeth.
The center's brightly-colored, animal-themed therapy rooms are filled with swings, balance beams, mats and slides. The setup gives children the sense that they're playing, while at the same time they are also developing their motor skills.
Doerr explained that the center also has therapists who work with children on sensory integration issues.
"We all have our five senses, and our bodies sense things using these senses. Some children are hyper- or hypo-sensitive to certain things, meaning they might sense sounds too loudly, or maybe they're really sensitive to light or certain tastes. The therapist helps to desensitize them and teaches them to react in a better way," she said.
Doerr said this hypo-sensitivity is seen most often in children with autism, a population that is increasing nationwide.
"Parents are very concerned about autism," she said. "The (Centers for Disease Control) says that one in 88 children have autism, and another study has said one in 50 have it, so it's rising."
For this reason, the center has therapists who specialize in working with autistic children.
To help parents recognize signs of autism or developmental delays in their children, the center has a list of developmental milestones that children should reach by a certain age.
"For instance, if parents notice their child doesn't look people in the face and avoids eye contact, or isn't walking by a certain age, they should be concerned," Doerr said. "It's important to go get your child screened by a physician if you notice something isn't right."
The center also has a room with play and therapy equipment dedicated to helping parents transition their child from regular therapy sessions. For $30 a month, parents can visit the center and work directly with their child.
"This serves as a bridge from therapy to no therapy, and it allows parents to learn to be independent with their child's therapy. They also have access to the pool and can work with the kids there," said Doerr.
McCall, the center's manager, said the new space has already attracted many new therapists, which means that more children than ever before will be able to be helped.
"Children are very different from adults, and they have different therapy needs," she said. "San Juan Regional Medical Center has been extremely supportive of this program, and it's a good example of the community needs being met by board members and the administration. This is a really fun, positive place to work."