Early intervention for your child and family

Your child’s first smile, first word, when they start to crawl and master other tasks provides you and your doctor with insight on how your child is achieving important milestones.

Every child grows and develops in his or her own way.  Yet, there are developmental milestones that children reach within a specific timeframe.

Sometimes, children are born with a condition or special need that impacts their development. Other times, a developmental delay becomes apparent over time, and is noticed by you or your doctor. Early intervention is a support system for children with developmental delays or disabilities and their families. Fundamentally, early intervention means finding the specific ways to help a child to reach his or her potential. The goal is for children with developmental delays to catch up to their peers by preschool.

Early intervention services are designed to:

  • Improve developmental, social and educational abilities
  • Reduce feelings of isolation, stress and frustration that a family may experience
  • Help lessen and reduce behaviors by using positive behavior strategies
  • Help children with disabilities grow up to be productive, independent individuals
  • Reduce future costs of special education, rehabilitation and healthcare needs

If your child is diagnosed with a developmental delay or disability, your family will have access to specialists, depending on your child’s condition. Developmental teachers, occupational and/or physical therapists, speech and language pathologists and vision and hearing consultants can help your child. The best programs and therapists are child-led and based on your child’s development and pace.

Family Involvement is Vital

The most important element in any early intervention program is family.  Simple, family-friendly therapy that is incorporated into everyday routines ensures progress and makes family life happier.

When parents practice techniques that are taught in therapy at home, it makes it easier and faster for your child to improve. Studies have also shown the reverse is true – when parents are not involved, therapy takes longer and the child has to work harder.

Education about development, play ideas and integrating these ideas into daily routines is crucial for each child’s progress. The goal is that children with developmental delays will catch up to their peers by preschool. With a team approach, therapists need to partner with and educate families about the services provided for your children – so they can be part of how you play and interact with your child.

A strong family partnership is vital. Look for therapists who:

  • Listen to your concerns
  • Assess your child’s individual needs
  • Develop a customized treatment plan
  • Educate you along the way on simple solutions to maximize your child’s development in his or her natural setting and routine

A strong partnership between parents and professional therapists helps the child, family and community. Early intervention services designed to maximize your child’s potential must partner with you.

Early Intervention Helps

Each child has his or her own personality, temperament and experience. Each child develops differently, and yet children typically reach certain milestones within a specific timeframe. Early intervention support and services are designed to help progress basic developmental milestones. These are the basic skills that help us function – when we are infants and toddlers and as we grow.

Early intervention is designed to support and enhance children’s developmental milestones and addresses and supports:

  • Physical development a child's ability to move, see and hear
  • Language and speech development a child's ability to talk and communicate
  • Social and emotional development a child's ability to play, interact and relate to others
  • Adaptive development a child's ability to handle self-care functions, such as feeding and dressing
  • Cognitive development a child's ability to think and learn  

The Earlier, The Better

Early intervention is designed to help your child, family and community. The earlier that services start, the easier it is on your child, the faster they learn, the better it is for your family and the community is better served.

Extensive research has long established that from birth until five children they learn the fastest. Timing is key. There are times of readiness – stages or teachable moments during which it is easier to learn a particular skill.  It is important to take advantage of that stage; otherwise it can be difficult to learn a skill later. Additionally, there is a wealth of studies that indicate that earlier intervention is more effective. With intervention in the first few years, the developmental gains are greater.

Early intervention services also help families. Parents and siblings of a child with developmental delays can feel isolated, stressed, frustrated and/or helpless. Early intervention can help to improve the way you feel about yourself and your child. With understanding and knowledgeable therapists, you can improve the outcome for your child and family and make it easier to accommodate your child’s needs.

Your community also reaps the benefits of early intervention – socially and economically. It is more cost effective to correct behavior early – the later you start, the longer and more effort it takes. Developmental and educational gains early in life compound, and can decrease dependence on social institutions. Specialized and holistic services can yield developmental gains faster – and more cost effectively – than for school-age children.

Talk to Your Pediatrician

If you are worried about your child, your pediatrician’s office is the place to start. You can talk to your doctor about any developmental concerns you may have. If they think your child can benefit from early intervention, they will recommend your child be evaluated. And, if you are still concerned, you can always seek an evaluation through your local early intervention program to have your child evaluated. The evaluation and early intervention services are free for children who need them.

Rely on Your Therapist

If your child can benefit from early intervention services, look for a provider with therapists who are talented, reliable and listen to you. Expect that your therapist will work hand-in-hand with you to make positive changes in your child’s life.

Look for a provider and therapist who emphasize continuing education. This field changes all the time, and new techniques and research are yielding better and more effective therapy.

Whether your child needs occupational, physical, speech, vision, nutritional or early childhood developmental therapy, this work should be integrated into your daily routine. Through education, play and knowledge, the partnership that you form with your therapist will reap rewards for years to come.

Enjoy This Time with Your Child

Know that there are services available to help your child and family. Help your child develop an optimistic outlook; It is one of the greatest gifts a parent can give. 

It is true that the time when your children are young passes quickly. Enjoy it.

Authors: Julie R. Hudak, PT, President at TEIS Inc., Tara Deringor, PT, Vice President at TEIS Inc.