CityNews Article Archive:
Thailand’s Largest Child Development Institute is Here in Chiang Mai…and it’s Expanding

April 19, 2012 - James Austin Farrell

CityNews – If you’ve driven along the irrigation Canal Road recently, just past the 700 Year stadium, on your right side you will have noticed a great big edifice that is presently being constructed. People have been wondering what this strange looking building might be, some thought a football stadium, others thought an aircraft hanger. It’s actually shaped as a giant grand piano. A piano with a great history.

“It symbolises what we stand for,” says Dr. Samai Sirithongthaworn, the Director of Rajanagarindra Institute of Child Development (RCID), who came up with idea of the design, “the piano is a symbol of art, of music, of performance.” He goes on to say that through the medium of art many of the thousands of children that the institute helps develop life skills and gain more independence and confidence going into the future.     Above: Model of the new building

There is actually nothing like the institute in the whole of Thailand, says Samai, adding that in 1994 he established RCID with the Ministry of Health because at that time northern Thailand had the worse IQ levels in the country. He explains that this was mainly due to inadequate cognitive stimulation (basically children not learning skills in infancy) and then not coping well in school, as well as an iron and iodine deficiency. Since they established the institute northern Thailand has climbed the IQ rankings and Samai hopes to climb even higher.

As the largest child development institute in the whole of Thailand and the first of its kind in the country, children and parents from every province visit the centre, including people from neighbouring countries, and there are also many westerners that visit the centre. Their methodologies for treating children that involve constant academic research are advanced on a global scale, as is their equipment. Some of the services they provide are:

Screening, diagnosis and treatment of mental disorders

Treating physical disabilities

Physical therapy/rehabilitation

Brain mapping for abnormalities

Occupational therapy

Learning walking skills, basic motor skills, language skills, etc

Outreach programmes

An excellent service in designing wheelchairs for handicapped persons and delivering all over Thailand and neighbouriing countries

Educational programmes for children and parents

Treatment for abused children, abandoned children, homeless children

Parent learning centre

Snoezelen therapy for autism/developmental disabilities


Hydrotherapy (new building)

Behavior modification and intelligence testing

Community psychiatric department (serving communities)

Dentistry for children with special needs

Helping children with learning difficulties/to help children with learning disabilities integrate into the school system

Improving life skills for kids with mental retardation or cerebral palsy

Autism diagnosis and therapy

Genetic disorder therapy

Chromosome analysis

Learning through specific toys for development/A toy library containing hundreds of learning toys available to borrow

Simulation exercises


Relaxation clinic (for the public, mainly people working as caregivers. Parents of children with special needs, or others working in stressful environments)

Help for teens with family problems

Social worker service

Baby nursery for children with special needs


Hotline for teens with problems, call 1323

The list goes on and covers many different therapies, some of which are alternative ways to treat the same problem as people respond uniquely to every kind of therapy. You would most likely not realise the institute existed, but once you walk through the doors and walk around you will quickly understand the importance of such a place in Thailand. This is why they had to expand to another building. The new building, replete with piano keys on the side and solar paneling all over the roof to make the building environmentally sound, will have more beds for patients, improved facilities, more diverse treatments. Dr. Sami explains that “parents can train to look after children with disabilities, they can intervene,” but, he says, parents usually need to spend some time at the institute to learn various skills, and for this he says they require more space. Although many families from all over the country visit on a regularly basis the inpatient beds are usually full. At the moment they expect about 40,000 visits a year and about 3,000 inpatients.

Above: Foreign volunteer constructing wheelchairs

The new building will also focus on learning skills through art, such as performance and optical music therapy. Of the 300,000,000 baht needed to finish the building the centre has about 200,000,000, the rest they are hoping to get in way of donations or sponsorship. If you are interested in donating then please contact the centre, details will be given below. “We receive about 60% of our funds from the government,” says Samai, 30% from sponsors, the rest from donations.”

Around 30 western volunteers help at the centre, some of them coming from their respective countries and others already working in the city. We met German, American, English and Iranian staff making wheelchairs, fixing them, fitting them, and also distributing them. The chairs, said one young man who had been at the centre for 11 years, (his dad started the wheelchair foundation) were put together in their workshop. Parts were sent from all over the world and then made and distributed from the centre. Some of the chairs were made to fit specific disabilities and are the latest in technology. “Very expensive,” Dr. Samai explained, though fortunately donations have helped children in need who live in poverty and has given them the ability to live some kind of functional life. Otherwise there would be very little support for these people.

Many of the workers at the centre are also trained abroad, mainly the US, so they can get accredited, this means many of the staff speak English and can treat English speaking children and parents. Their handbook and Ebook the centre provides at the moment is only in Thai, though Samai hopes to get it translated to English soon. The book covers many areas of child development, he tells us, adding  “I need to get permission from the Ministry of Health first, we still work for the government and the government needs to give us permission.”

Above: Dr. Samai outside a treatment room for autism

The centre is an amazing place, improving, educating, the lives of many people in Thailand and other countries who otherwise would have little or no access to child development programmes. They rely on donations for much of their budget, so if you want to donate please contact them.

You can also volunteer, and of course, if you or your child requires help then don’t hesitate to visit the centre. Any nationality can visit receive help and the service is free.

Above: Outside the very relaxing Snoezelen therapy room



Tel: 053 890 238-44 Fax: 053 121 185

Directions: Drive past 700 year stadium for about 1 km. The centre is the huge building on the right side. You’ll need to do a U-turn if you are coming from the 700 year stadium. Turn down the soi and drive for about 100 metres and then turn left into the old part of the institute.

Address: 196 Moo 10, Chiang Mai-Fang Road, Tambon Mae Rim, Chiang Mai 50180.

Above: Piano building under construction