“Early intervention means help before the age of three that you can get in a variety of areas including speech, occupational therapy and physical therapy,” says Lauren Sharkey, speech therapist at Kutest Kids Early Intervention in Philadelphia, PA.
Although children evolve at their own rhythm, the majority of toddlers attain certain milestones, such as crawling, walking, or speaking, at roughly the same age. When a child fails to reach a certain milestone or demonstrates a significant delay in doing so, it can be a cause for worry.
“A question I get a lot is: ‘What exactly is early intervention?’” says Sharkey. Indeed, early intervention involves acting sooner rather than later, to address developmental or gross motor challenges for infants and small children, before they become harder to deal with later on. Early intervention improves the developmental capacities of the child and empowers parents to establish a supportive and enriching atmosphere for their children to flourish in.
Does My Child Require Early Intervention?
Early intervention programs and services are generally intended for children under three years old, who display either a:
- Delay in development or gross motor skills
- Particular disability or health issue that can contributes to developmental impairment, such as:
- Genetic or birth irregularities
- Hearing loss
Families commonly receive early intervention services for disabilities like Down syndrome, but other warning signs can include refusing to be held, a fear of motion, sensory sensitivity or difficulty feeding.
If you are concerned about your child’s development, or if your child doesn’t seem to be developing the same skills as their peers, consulting your pediatrician will determine whether or not early intervention is necessary. Alternatively, you may contact your state’s early intervention office and request an evaluation.
Early intervention programs are administered through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Every state receives grants from the federal government, and families who qualify can obtain services for free or at minimal cost.
Types of Early Interventions
Infants and toddlers typically obtain service visits in their homes or at a specially designed child community center to assist with the development of:
- Motor skills such as crawling, stretching, walking, drawing, and assembling
- Cognitive abilities such as learning, problem-solving and understanding
- Communication skills such as talking, understanding and listening
- Self-help capabilities such as eating or getting dressed
- Social capacities such as playing and relating to others
- Sensory perception such as taste, sound, smell and tactile sensation
A team of trained professionals will offer a wide array of therapeutic services to improve a child’s capacity to relate to others and their immediate environment. These services include:
- Screening and evaluation
- Speech therapy
- Physical therapy
- Occupational therapy
- Audiology and visual services
How Does Early Intervention Work?
The optimal place for young children to learn is where they spend most of their time and where they feel most comfortable…at home.
“We come to the house and we help you as a family teach your child what they need,” says Sharkey. “And provide them with the tools to be able to talk, walk or move in a more appropriate manner for their age.”
Providing services early helps children catch up and increases their chances for success in school and a bright future in life. Early childhood intervention programs have demonstrated valuable results in educational development, behavior, and a host of other benchmarks for success.