Researchers from the National Institute of Mental Health are among the founders of a new nonprofit center in Silver Spring that assesses and treats developmental problems in infants and young children.

The privately financed Regional Center for Infants and Young Children, which opened Jan. 3, will concentrate on children who are more likely than others to have such physical and emotional developmental problems, a spokesman said. Typical of those problems are hypersensitivity to sound or touch or cognitive developmental problems that could lead to learning disabilities or social or emotional problems that could lead to poor social adjustment, the spokesman said.

"If we can pick up developmental problems early, the chances are they will be easier to correct," said Dr. Stanley Greenspan, chief of the Mental Health Study Center at NIMH and one of the regional center's founders. "There is evidence that because the brain is growing most rapidly--two-thirds to three-fourths of its adult size--during the first three years of life, an infant's or young child's recovery power--the ability to change and adapt--may be much greater."

The center founders say their facility is based on a clinical model developed by the NIMH's Clinical Infant Research Section; they hope it will become a model for the country. Parents can bring children in for assessment of physical and mental development--something several Washington area facilities offer--as well as emotional and social development, a service they describe as more unusual. The parents' emotional and social well-being is also checked to see if parental problems are affecting the infant.

"A baby is not simply a person who crawls and stands but a feeling, experiencing little person who thinks and interacts," Greenspan said. "The goal of our work at NIMH was to identify more clearly the emotional and social landmarks in early infancy and childhood.

"This was the missing piece. We . . . see . . . how a baby functions within a family and social milieu."

Should the assessment reveal developmental lags or problems, the center then comes up with a treatment plan.