Early Intervention: First Steps in the Right Direction
Early intervention is a series of services that focus on the development of the infant and toddler – either with a disability or developmental delay. Through early intervention, a child can learn new skills and move forward with their development.
We spoke with Elizabeth Collazo, an Early Interventionist. For those who are not familiar with this term, an early interventionist is also a primary service provider who assists families with strategies that can work for them in their daily routines. The focus is to personalize and individualize the service to the needs of the child and the family, and may include any of the following:
- ITDS – Infant Toddler Development Specialist
- Speech Language Pathology
- Physical Therapy
- Occupational Therapy
- Nutrition services
- Nursing services
- Medical services
- Audiology or hearing services
- Assistive technology devices a child may require
A benefit of early intervention is that it is family friendly – supporting the children and their parents in their natural environments, including in the home, in parks, at a preschool, or even a babysitter’s house or a grandparent’s home – wherever is needed. A park can be overwhelming to a young child, with all the different equipment. According to Elizabeth, through play at a park, we can help a child explore their surroundings and feel more comfortable out in different areas. We can help eliminate a vulnerability.
One of the areas we work with is play because the role of play is crucial. Working with nursery rhymes and sensory play can help quite a bit. One example is working with a little boy who likes cars, and we lined up the cars and did a car wash.
The first step is to qualify for early intervention, and then we work with the family to find the right match and get them the help they need. Evaluations are holistic, meaning we look at the whole picture rather than focus only on one area. Our family resource specialists help find resources in the area, including with organizing playgroups for the socialization of both the child and parents.
Qualification for Early Intervention
Qualification begins with a referral, after which you have 45 days for the evaluation, initial assessments of the child and family, and the writing of the IFSP, which is provided free of charge. Anyone can refer a child for early intervention services; even a parent can do a self-referral. The program is voluntary, so the parent can decide whether to get involved, even if the referral came from outside, such as a relative, friend, doctor, or even a neighbor. Anyone who believes a child and family may benefit from these services can make a referral.
Children with established conditions qualify easier because they have already been diagnosed by a doctor. With developmental delays, you have to go through the intake process to determine if they qualify for the evaluation.
The five areas of development evaluated for intervention need include:
- Physical including hearing and vision
- Social or emotional
During the intake process, the coordinator and the caregivers get together to go over some questions, and then the coordinator plays with the child to determine if the qualifications for the evaluation are met. If so, following the evaluation, an IFSP – individualized family service plan – is developed to determine what goals are to be accomplished, and how to get there.
During the evaluation, there are three team members present – the coordinator, a case manager who develops the IFSP, and an infant delay developmental specialist. The focus of early intervention is to start as soon as possible to best help the child’s development in the early years.
Goals of Early Intervention
The goals of early intervention vary from one family to the next, based on the child’s and the family’s needs. Early intervention has the power to help families become more confident and to learn how to better advocate for their child. We want to find the right primary service provider first, someone who is going to be the best match for the family.
It is important for families to ask questions up front, and throughout the process. For example, if language is a barrier, then the family should absolutely ask for a primary service provider who speaks their language. Never hesitate to speak up – that is one important word of advice. The family should always feel comfortable with the people that are working with them.
Another important aspect of early intervention is finding the right professionals to help the child. Having mental health counselors on our staff is crucial because the parents are going through a lot, and sometimes, having someone to talk to can help them as they navigate this new road in their lives. We are helping the family build a support team of specialists.
Aspects of early intervention may include skills such as the following:
- Cognitive – learning, thinking, problem-solving
- Communication – listening, talking, comprehension
- Physical – rolling, reaching, sitting, crawling, walking, running
- Emotional – feeling happy, secure
- Self-help – feeding, brushing teeth or hair, getting dressed
- Social – playing with others
Part B of Early Intervention
Early intervention continues until a child is three, then they go into Part B and start school. At that time, the parents cannot be in the program anymore. Three months before that time, there is a transition meeting to introduce the family to Part B. This is the time they are introduced to the program that organizes the IEPs that will be used by the school district to help the child learn and succeed in school. We all work together to get the child ready for school.
A child will have to qualify for the criteria of the school district, and we help them navigate through that time during those three months to make the transition smooth.
For more information on early intervention,
More Early Intervention
- Early Intervention: First Steps in the Right Direction
- Are You on the Fence About Early Intervention: A Therapist’s Perspective
- Take Your First Steps With Early Steps
- Where Do I Go for Evaluations
- Miracle Babies What You Need to Know
- Autism and Early Intervention
- Early Intervention Games
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This post originally appeared on our May/June 2019 Magazine