Early intervention is a support and education system for children ages birth to six who may be exhibiting or are at risk for developmental delays. Once a child reaches the age of three, they are commonly referred to the school district they will be attending for services. From birth to age three, children are referred to professionals who work with specific issues within that age group. The mission of early intervention is to ensure that families who have an at risk child in this age group receive resources and support that will assist them in maximizing their child’s physical, cognitive, and social/emotional development.
An early childhood intervention team usually consists of teachers, special education specialists, speech and language pathologists, physical therapists, occupational therapists, and developmental psychologists or social workers. Decisions are made in an assessment, with each professional weighing in on areas of concern. A treatment plan is then devised and referrals are made for services.
Since the first few years of life are a sensitive time of development, early intervention can provide many important benefits. Early intervention can teach parents better skills to meet their child’s needs from an early age and throughout their lives. Positive early experiences are essential for later success in school, the workplace, and the community. Early intervention also positively impacts health, language, cognitive development, and social/emotional development. Early intervention is a huge support for parents, allowing them to have a hands-on approach to treatment, therapy, and future goals for their children. It can also put parents in touch with each other so they can become a support to each other.
The earlier a child is identified as needing extra services, the greater the impact may be. This is where parental involvement is key. If a parent has concerns that their child may not be meeting his developmental milestones on time, he or she should approach their pediatrician for assistance. At that time, the doctor may make a referral to an early intervention program for a full evaluation. The intensity of the program or therapies given is based on the level of delay exhibited and can make an impact on future success.
As a professional, I spent many years as the psychological associate representative in the early childhood intervention assessment arena. I was fortunate enough to test hundreds of little ones to determine if they needed further services or not. Working with the parents of these children was a huge joy for me. To be able to shoulder some of their fears and concerns while moving forward to get them the answers they needed was amazing. It also helped me with my own children in being able to see if they were on track developmentally or not. I have witnessed children benefit greatly from early intervention. I have seen children who had behavior issues and could not stay in daycare facilities receive the help they and their parents needed to change their environment and be able to go on to be successful in school.
I have also worked as a developmental psychological associate in the NICU with nurses and families, helping to teach them what their neonates are saying without uttering a word. By watching a baby’s oxygen saturation rates and heart rates, we were able to determine what brings an neonate the most comfort. As I helped develop and run a NICU follow-up clinic, it was exciting to have a front row seat in watching NICU graduates grow over their first three years by providing developmental testing for them every six months. If a deficit was uncovered, I was able to immediately refer that family to early intervention for services. By the time most of the babies reached three years of age, no one would have known their rocky, scary start to life. I believe that is a direct result of active parental involvement and getting them the services they needed as early as possible.
If you feel that your child could benefit from an early intervention evaluation, contact your pediatrician for your local office. If you have any concerns at all about your child’s development, do not hesitate to reach out. Do not worry that you will be looked at like a neurotic parent; you will not. Putting your fears to rest or getting your child into the services that they may need is exactly what you should do. No concern is too small. Each child should be given the opportunity to reach his or her fullest potential.