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Traveling team gives children with developmental delays a better start to life

Children grow and develop at different rates, but sometimes a child is so far behind others in the same age group that there”s cause for concern. For children with developmental delays, early intervention can make a world of difference. Doctors say there”s a window of opportunity for brain development, and that diagnosing problems early can help delayed children catch up with their peers. Tonight we meet a medical team that”s on a mission to provide timely care to every child, even those in Taiwan”s most remote corners. Our Sunday special report.

Guided by a therapist, 8-year-old Chi-chi gets up on her legs.

She’s had to practice for a long time to be able to stand up by herself. Chi-chi was born with cerebral palsy and has been in therapy since birth.

The kids in this classroom all have some sort of early developmental impairment. They come to the hospital once a week for a 1-hour session of physical therapy.

Early intervention programs like these aim to help children with developmental delays or physical and mental disabilities. The goal is to get children to realize their potential, and to tackle developmental delays.

Liu Chun-hao
Developmental pediatrician
When children experience developmental delays, early intervention therapy can help them catch up with their peers before the golden window for brain development closes.

Human brain development is fastest in the first three years of life, making that the ideal period for early intervention. But doctors say that many children miss that window of opportunity, because parents fail to notice the signs of developmental delays.

Liu Chun-hao
Developmental pediatrician
For example, other children may have begun running and jumping, while your child still has a hard time walking. That could signal a developmental delay in motor skills. Or perhaps other children are speaking in full sentences but your child can only use single words, and has trouble communicating. Perhaps your child is unable to take part in group activities. If they are slower than other children in these areas, we have to pay special attention to them.

There are booklets and charts that can help parents identify whether their newborns have developmental delays.

Yeh Kuo-kuang
Physical therapist
Say that your child learns to walk later than other children do. That’s a gross motor skill. Some children might have problems using their hands. That involves fine motor skills. There are children who speak more slowly, who have a stammer or who have articulation disorders. These signal delays in language development. Another major category relates to behavioral skills. For example, if the child has turned three years old but still doesn’t know how to interact with other children, that’s a behavioral problem. These are the main four kinds of developmental skills.

According to the World Health Organization, between 6% and 8% of children experience some form of developmental delay. To help more children get early intervention when they need it, Linkou’s Chang Gung Memorial Hospital created a specialized task force. It’s made up of specialist doctors; physical, functional and speech therapists; psychologists; special education instructors and social workers. Together, they go to rural areas to help children in need.

Today, the team has traveled to the mountainous Fuxing District in Taoyuan. It took them more than two hours to reach their destination: San-kuang Elementary School.

Chang Tu-ying
San-Kuang Elementary School principal
About one third of our students are receiving early intervention services. These students were transferred to our school this year. I think that many of them have a family background that is not favorable to their development.

The school has 32 students in total from Grade 1 to 6. Ten of them — or one in every three — use early intervention services.

Pan Chih-feng
San-kuang Elementary School counseling head
I’ve worked here for almost 27 years. The kids here, like many other children in rural areas, belong to families with limited economic resources. They may also be culturally deprived. Some of their inner needs may not be met. They need help from their parents, who are usually busy working the land, or stressed with other work matters. Some children are being brought up by their grandparents. Some live in single-parent households, or they may be orphans.

The team from Chang Gung Memorial Hospital knows just how vital early intervention can be. For more than two years now, they have provided therapy to children in rural areas. The work involves more than 30 experts.

Liu Chun-hao
Developmental pediatrician
Taking this kind of therapy to the community level takes up a lot of resources. Because you don’t just need doctors.

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