Identifying medical challenges early in life and having access to proactive care are game changers for families with children facing developmental delays.
As a trusted community partner for families and physicians in the Twin Cities area, St. David’s Center for Child & Family Development improves the way children are assessed for developmental delays and connected to resources with the power to better their lives.
St. David’s Center is home to an inclusive preschool, children’s mental health clinic, autism treatment center and pediatric therapy clinic, all housed under one roof. The center is uniquely equipped to meet a wide spectrum of families’ needs, from early childhood education both for typical children and those with a wide range of developmental needs — to the specialized therapies necessary for all of these children to thrive.
Research indicates children experience a variety of benefits in their interpersonal relationships and development trajectory when delays in their progress are identified early in life. Here’s how St. David’s Center is working to make families as strong as possible, as early as possible.
When parents or providers notice a potential problem with a child’s development, the St. David’s Center intake team serves as a vital resource of support and information. Developmental red flags — for example, trouble communicating effectively, struggles in a classroom setting, or lack of successful reciprocal interactions with peers or caregivers — are frequently noticed during well-child visits, at home, or by educators or childcare providers. After collecting information about the concern, the intake team helps connect the pieces, working together with parents and providers to form an investigative plan to understand and address the potential issue.
“The medical system tends to be broken up into silos with teams or providers working alone, and the gift of being a multidisciplinary center is that we work against the infrastructure that forces us into those silos,” says Julie Sjordal, CEO of St. David’s Center. “Our autism day treatment program is a great example of this. Speech therapists, occupational therapists and mental health clinicians work as a team with the children in the program. They collaborate to create treatment goals for each child, so they can assist children with achieving improved well-being and functioning — not just in a single area, but overall.”
The spirit of collaboration and cooperation at St. David’s Center also extends to the support of community providers whose patients may benefit from additional resources.
“If a parent or physician discovers a child isn’t keeping pace with his or her peers or is exhibiting maladaptive behaviors, we encourage them to reach out to our team for support,” says Cara Benoit, MA, CCC-SLP, Senior Program Director of Pediatric Therapies at St. David’s Center. “We invite them to call our Central Office of Resources and Enrollment and explain the presentation they’re seeing. Our intake team will help identify the appropriate assessments, offer suggestions for reaching an accurate diagnosis, and recommend additional resources or referrals to our specialists when appropriate.
“Developmental delays can prove challenging to fully address in a primary care setting, and the team at St. David’s Center can help,” Benoit continues. “Physicians don’t need to have a definitive diagnosis to utilize our resources. We are willing to explore concerns alongside providers and families to come to correct conclusions and select appropriate courses of treatment.”
Early Intervention, Lifelong Benefits
It is vital to be proactive in identifying challenges that children face, Benoit stresses. Early identification and intervention help children move forward and succeed as well as thwart the development of maladaptive behaviors that may obscure the underlying causes of developmental delays. Such behaviors can develop into patterns of poor peer relationships and trouble communicating with adults.
“The complexity of diagnosis increases when children develop behaviors around an unaddressed need over time,” Benoit says. “A child may struggle with behavior in a classroom setting as a result of a condition that could have been easily managed had it been identified early.”
The sooner such concerns are recognized, the better, as the foundations for learning are established in the first few years of life. These foundations become more difficult to adjust as children age, and maladaptive behaviors, along with factors such as toxic stress and negative early experiences, can exacerbate developmental concerns. Diagnosing children early in life may also lead to shorter treatment periods as children rapidly progress toward improved function.
To accomplish this, therapists with St. David’s Center employ a variety of assessments to achieve early identification and guide referrals to appropriate intervention services. (See “Identification and Intervention Methods” for details.)
“During assessments and interventions, we examine the individual needs of clients and families and meet them with resources appropriate to their specific situations and abilities,” says Benoit. “Even if an initial referral is for one program, such as the Autism Day Treatment Program, our thorough assessment process may indicate the child isn’t ready for a group setting. In cases like that, the child would begin in outpatient occupational and speech therapy, with the goal of moving the child to autism day treatment when he or she does demonstrate group readiness.”
Evaluation remains a vital part of children’s growth and development at every stage. The same proactive approach applies to transitioning children on to the early childhood education program, for example, where children with more significant developmental delays or disabilities can work alongside typical children for improved outcomes across all domains of development. Throughout children’s time at St. David’s Center, the team individualizes the services they receive based on their specific needs, and with that optimization, they gain skills more quickly.
Meeting Complex Needs
Children referred to St. David’s Center’s Multidisciplinary Assessment Team typically exhibit anxious or disruptive behaviors or an inability to get along with other children, or they have experienced significant trauma. This team connects clinicians and therapists across disciplines in a collaborative approach to determine the needs of children with complex developmental concerns caused by these and other issues. The makeup of a child’s assessments is adjusted based on his or her unique needs and commonly includes working with a child psychologist, a speech therapist and an occupational therapist.
This particular team’s collaborative approach isn’t solely confined to the area of St. David’s Center’s services, however. The theme of collaboration is mirrored across the work of the entire center.
“We are a multidisciplinary center focused on intervening as early as possible in the lives of children who present with developmental challenges, whether those challenges are due to physiological causes or trauma children have experienced,” Sjordal says. “To have this range of disciplines in one place, and to also house early education for children with typical development in the building, is a beautiful continuum of services driven by a group of deeply committed and experienced clinicians, therapists and educators. Our goal, no matter the children’s level of development, is to move them along in a healthy way toward their best outcomes.”
To refer a patient to St. David’s Center, contact the CORE office at 952-548-8700.