The idea that infants and very young children can benefit from early attention to their mental health needs is a relatively new one.
But "increasingly, people in the mental health field are very, very interested in early intervention," said Evelyn Kase-Battle, executive director of the Reginald S. Lourie Center for Infants and Young Children in Rockville.
Since 1982, the private, non-profit Lourie Center has been diagnosing and treating the emotional, social and developmental problems of children from birth to age 5.
Drawn primarily from Washington and its suburbs, the children are referred by physicians, the courts and social service agencies.
They come with delayed language and physical skills, attachment and separation problems, eating and sleep disorders, excessive shyness, fearfulness, depression, hyperactivity, aggression, hypersensitivity to touch or other sensations, learning difficulties and emotional trauma.
Some are in individual, group and family therapy for months or years. Services include a diagnostic nursery, parent-child psychotherapy program, "fussy baby" clinic and a therapeutic summer camp.
Lourie therapists also observe and address the needs of parents.
Some -- often as a result of their own upbringing -- may lack the maturity, understanding and parenting skills needed to properly care for and cope with their children.
Some head multirisk households where drugs and alcohol are problems.
Many were abused or neglected as children and know no other way to deal with young children. Many simply never grew up.
Founded as a clinical infant development program under the National Institute of Mental Health, the Lourie Center now serves 250 to 300 children a year with its staff of 30 aided by about a dozen volunteers.