Climbing walls, swings, a racing track for self-propelled cars.

The indoor and outdoor play areas on the second floor of the Anna Shaw Children's Institute seem like a child's dream.

But Laurie McGee, therapy manager, says some serious work goes on here.

"These are all therapeutic and medically necessary," she said. "It is all designed by therapists, and the particular parts that each child uses will help with whatever it is that we are working on, whether it is building muscle strength or helping their balance. If we are trying to help a child develop strength in his arms, we may use one of the cars that they have to pump to make work. The climbing helps develop coordination. Yes, it will be fun. We want them to do what they need to do. It's different from adult therapy."

Much of the area is designed to be used by children with physical or cognitive disabilities.

"We have an adaptive climbing wall that has footrests that are flat so kids with braces can use it," McGee said. "We have a specialized pediatric treadmill with a harness so kids with cerebral palsy can use it."

The institute, part of Hamilton Health Care System, opened earlier this month and held an open house Tuesday night. Executive Director Terri Woodruff said it provides diagnostic services and treatment for children up to age 11 with attention disorders, autism spectrum disorders and other behavioral and developmental challenges. Located on a six-acre site immediately west of Hamilton Medical Center's Brown Conference Center at 1201 Burleyson Road, the institute will serve children primarily from Whitfield, Murray, Catoosa and Gordon counties as well as the larger northwest Georgia.

The institute is named for and dedicated to Anna Sue Shaw, the late wife of Robert "Bob" Shaw, the co-founder of Shaw Industries and founder of Engineered Floors. The institute was founded with funding from the Anna Sue and Bob Shaw Foundation.

The institute has been designed with a tree house theme, with the second floor rooms named for birds and the first floor rooms named for animals.

"When you walk into this building, everything has been designed for a child with special needs, everything," said Jessica Truelove. "I've never seen anything like it."

Truelove is a registered nurse and care-navigator at the institute as well as the mother of a daughter with special needs. She said having the institute in Dalton will benefit families such as hers, who often previously had to go to Chattanooga or even Atlanta for these services, tremendously.

Dr. Emily Brandt, a developmental-behavioral pediatrician, said having so many providers and services under one roof makes it easier to care for the children in a more efficient manner.

"There are more providers here than I have been able to work with in the past, meeting different needs of the children," she said. "In addition to the medical care, we have the social workers, the behavioral therapists, the psychologist, the physical therapists, all collaborating on the care of the child."

Dr. Nancy Carnevale, the institute's medical director, said that collaboration can only improve the quality of care for children.

"For instance, if we are seeing them for a medical appointment we can say 'Oh, a few weeks ago, they were having trouble with this in therapy, what can we do to support that?'" she said.

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