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Dept. of Pediatrics > Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics

Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics

950 East 61st Street, SSC 207, MC
Chicago, IL 60637

773-702-3095   Phone
773-702-0208   Fax


Lawrence Gray
, MD
Assistant Professor
Scott Hunter
, PhD
Associate Professor
Michael Msall
, MD
Section Chief
Peter Joseph Smith
, MA , MD
Associate Professor
Karin Vander Ploeg Booth
, MD
Assistant Professor

Academic Personnel


About the Section

The Section of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics strives to become a Center of Excellence in developmental diagnosis, biomedical management and family support for children with motor, communicative, sensory, developmental, genetic, neurological, learning and behavior disorders. The section’s goals are to:

Promote the highest quality interdisciplinary assessment and biopsychosocial management practices to optimize child functioning, support families and maximize prevention strategies across health, education and community care systems.

Provide the necessary leadership to ensure that children with complex challenges have a high quality medical home and that best practices are used to improve their ability to communicate, move, regulate behavior, interact socially, learn functional and adaptive skills, perform in school and participate in the community.

Serve as a resource for primary care practitioners for children with the highest biomedical and psychosocial risks associated with suboptimal educational outcomes.

Serve as a resource for community professionals and agencies for children with developmental delays, complex disorders (autism, Down syndrome, mental retardation, multiple disabilities) or complex behavioral challenges.

Enhance training and research so families will benefit from the best clinical and scientific advances with the highest standards of ethics, professionalism and advocacy.

Clinical Program

The section, in collaboration with allied professionals, provides developmental and behavioral assessments and care plans for children with developmental delays, complex disabilities and behavior disorders. Some of the common problems addressed include:

  • Developmental delays
  • Speech-language delays
  • Motor delays
  • Cognition delays
  • Attention difficulties
  • Hyperactivity
  • Difficulty socializing
  • Infant fussiness
  • Learning disabilities
  • Difficult behavior
  • Attention Deficit Disorder with/without hyperactivity
  • Autism spectrum disorders
  • Down Syndrome
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Mental retardation
  • Behavioral disorders
  • Colic and reflux
  • Complex, multiple disabilities

The section also works with other medical specialties to provide comprehensive medical management and follow-up support for children with medical or social issues that may complicate their development and behavior. These at-risk children may have been born prematurely or have conditions such as asthma, congenital heart disease, cystic fibrosis, diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, pediatric malignancies, failure-to-thrive, seizure disorders, genetic disorders and sickle cell disease. In addition, developmental and behavioral consultations are provided to families with children receiving residential service and to families with children in schools designed to meet their special needs. Furthermore, the section offers assistance to families who adopt a child overseas through pre-adoption consultation on the child’s development and medical condition, an initial medical and developmental examination, and follow-up services as needed.

For more information about our International Adoption Clinic, visit the Comer Children's Hospital website.


Fellowship Program

The section recently established the only ACGME accredited fellowship program in developmental and behavioral pediatrics in this region of the United States. The goal of this 3-year fellowship program is to prepare post doctoral fellows in developmental and behavioral pediatrics for teaching, patient care, research, and community leadership roles.
At the completion of training, each fellow will:

Demonstrate a broad and in-depth understanding of child development and children with special health care needs;

Demonstrate knowledge of developmental milestones and instruments for assessing behavior, development, and functional status from early childhood to adolescence;

Exhibit a working knowledge of federal, state and local community resources available to support families and foster the development of children;

Demonstrate skills in the diagnosis and management of a wide range of behavioral and developmental problems experienced by children from birth through adolescence;

Be experienced in participating in a wide variety of multidisciplinary teams (primary care, behavioral, developmental, child abuse, chronic illness, high risk neonatal follow-up);

Demonstrate skills in teaching the concepts of behavioral and developmental pediatrics in multiple settings: 1-on-1, small group, parent group, or larger audiences of health, allied health, educational, or behavioral community professionals;

Participate in meaningful research and become familiar with research methods used in developmental and behavioral pediatrics;

Practice child advocacy at the community level;

Complete a research project and present it at a scientific meeting and submit it to a peer reviewed journal for publication;

Develop a strategy for ongoing research funding including writing a grant proposal.

Throughout the training program, each fellow’s schedule is modified each quarter to meet their personal learning objectives as well as DBP learning objectives. As fellows build their skills and confidence in DBP practice, they can expand their roles into related fields such as genetics, rehabilitation, and neurology.

The first year of DBP fellowship commences with an orientation month that includes observations of DBP programs for infants, preschoolers, school age children, and children with special needs, as well as an introduction to the allied fields of rehabilitation, neurology, psychiatry, psychology, and genetics. Fellows also are oriented to social resources for vulnerable children and families in the community through observation at partner programs, such as Child and Family Connections #10, the Erikson Institute, Beacon Therapeutic School, Illinois Center for Education and Rehabilitation, University of Chicago Early Intervention Program, and the Ounce of Prevention. Also during orientation, fellows work up two Comer Children’s Hospital patients seen in DBP consultations, two LaRabida inpatients with multiple disabilities, one child in the 0-3 Diagnostic Clinic, and one child seen in the Center for Healthy Families. In addition, they present a DBP topic of their choice to their fellow residents.

After orientation, fellows begin rotations in DBP outpatient clinics (0-3 Diagnostic Clinic, DBP Clinics at several locations, Center for Healthy Families for high-risk NICU follow-up, the Fussy Baby Program, and the Premier Preemies and Failure to Thrive Programs at LaRabida Children’s Hospital) and inpatient consultation (Comer Children’s Hospital, LaRabida Children’s Hospital,
Illinois Center for Rehabilitation and Education). In addition, fellows participate in small group discussions with DBP faculty and residents on topics such as normal child development, language development, regulatory behaviors, developmental screening and testing, common childhood behavior problems, early indicators of autism, diagnostic evaluation of global developmental delay, multimodal diagnosis and management of attention and learning problems and family stressors, biopsychosocial management of developmental and behavioral concerns, and how to share impressions and assessment results with families. First year DBP fellows begin their teaching experience one session per week in our DBP consulting clinics and one session per week in a pediatric program serving vulnerable populations. They also attend the ongoing Pediatric Fellows’ Core Curriculum conferences as an introduction to research, and teaching practices, and academic planning. Toward the end of the first year or beginning of the second year, fellows also complete a month-long rotation on the chronic care team at LaRabida.

The second and third years of training require increasing levels of responsibility commensurate with each fellow’s skills and in accordance with hospital guidelines for trainees. Adequate time for research is built into the entire training period. The fellow is expected to have identified an area of research to pursue and appropriate faculty mentors by the end of their first year. They work with their mentors to design a project that can be completed by the end of the second year of training. To develop presentation skills and to obtain feedback to refine their research project, fellows present their research ideas and progress in weekly research conferences attended by faculty and other fellows. Fellows also present a topic of their choice during their second year to pediatric residents on their DBP rotation.
By the third year, fellows are expected to present their research as abstracts, posters, platform presentations, and/or publications. They also attend grant writing seminars and are expected to either write their own grant proposal or to participate with mentors in grant writing. During the final year, DBP faculty actively assist fellows in finding the best possible academic position to meet their personal academic goals.

Training for Residents and Medical Students

The section also provides training rotations for residents and senior medical students. These rotations cover typical and atypical childhood behavior and development; the assessment of developmental delays, disabilities, and behavior disorders; and medical interventions and family supports for children with developmental and behavioral challenges. They include exposure to a variety of care settings, including diagnostic and follow-up clinics and community-based programs providing education and rehabilitation services, as well as exposure to children of all ages from infancy through adolescence.

Research Program

Research is well-integrated in the section’s activities. Faculty research interests are as follows:

    Intermediate outcomes for NICU and PICU cohorts with respect to child disability and well-being between the ages of 2 and 5 years

    Biomarkers of early regulatory behaviors and their impact on growth and early learning

    Growth, development and family stress of children with congenital heart disease

    Use of survey methodologies and telemedicine to understand indicators of self-care, mobility, communication and learning in at-risk populations

    Impact of communication and behavioral support interventions on development and behavior in toddlers

    Significance of synoptogenesis markers in communication and adaptation skills in children with CNS dysgenesis, autism and epilepsy

Funding for research is derived from various sources including federal grants and philanthropic organizations. Dr. Larry Gray is supported by a National Institutes of Health K23 Mentored Patient-Oriented Training Grant to support his research on infant regulatory processes. Dr. Msall has a medical research grant from The Children’s Guild to create a new assessment tool to describe emerging independence in self-care, communication, and social skills for children aged one month to three years. He is also a co-investigator on a study funded by the W.T. Grant Foundation to identify the factors that enable adolescents with disabilities to successfully make the transition from high school to advanced education or training and to enter the labor force. Dr. Blondis received an intramural grant to provide transportation resources for developmentally disabled or delayed children receiving treatment services through the University of Chicago Woodlawn Early Intervention Center.

Visit the Comer Children's Hospital website for more information about developmental and behavioral pediatrics.