The Importance of Early Intervention
Published on: September 15, 2019
Although all children reach developmental milestones at slightly different ages, there are general trends that are common in early development that should be monitored. Here are some useful tips about when and how to seek Early Intervention services.
By Dr. Plern Pratoommas
What is Early Intervention?
Early Intervention is a term that describes a range of specialized services and activities that support the development and learning of young children (birth-to-5) with delays or disabilities. A variety of professionals can provide Early Intervention services, either separately or as a team, and can belong to different disciplines or fields of study, such as medicine, rehabilitation, and education.
How do you know if your child needs Early Intervention?
If your child was born with a medical condition that may cause developmental delay or disability (e.g., low birth weight, premature birth, chromosomal conditions, etc.), it is likely that your medical provider has already recommended Early Intervention.
If your medical provider did not recommend Early Intervention, or if your child was not born with a medical condition, but you have concerns about his or her development, you may want to ask your child’s developmental pediatrician for a developmental screening. Although all children reach developmental milestones at slightly different ages, there are general trends (an expected sequence) that are common in early development that should be monitored. The first step is to determine whether your child is falling behind other children by an acceptable rate, or if the delay is significant enough to impact his or her learning and development negatively. The second step is to identify a cause for the delay, which could include biological, social, or environmental factors. The third step is to seek out the appropriate services and supports that can effectively help your child’s development.
There are a number of useful resources online that you could use to check whether your child is developing as expected. One resource is the CDC’s Developmental Milestones Tracker.
If you have specific concerns about Autism, you can complete the Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers (M-CHAT) screening tool yourself.
When should you seek out Early Intervention services?
The minute you start having concerns about your child’s development, you should begin to seek out professional advice. If you’ve gone through the developmental checklists and find that your child is behind other children of his/her age, then you should seek out Early Intervention services. The best thing that could happen is you get your child the support he or she needs as soon as possible.
When is there a need to be concerned?
Comments I usually hear from parents that I consider to be “red flags” in early childhood include the following:
“My child doesn’t look or smile at me.”
“My child does not respond to his name.”
“My child seems unaware of other people.”
“My child plays with toys in a very strange way.”
“I worry about my child’s hearing/vision.”
“I don’t understand what my child is trying to communicate most of the time.”
“My child has difficulty moving around.”
“My child has severe tantrums, and it is impossible to calm him down.”
“My child is two years old and does not say a single word yet.”
If you have similar concerns about your child, or if you notice that your child is not meeting important developmental milestones, please make sure to inform your child’s pediatrician as soon as possible. If you find that expressing your concerns is met with resistance, you can explain that you might be overly cautious about this issue, but you would rather be proactive than reactive when it comes to your child’s development.
What happens if we wait too long?
What we know from research is the sooner children start receiving Intervention, the better the outcomes for the child and the family. There is a lot more to gain from this approach than doing nothing at all or waiting until much later to begin Intervention.
Early childhood (birth-to-5) is a period when brain development takes place at a rapid rate and experiences have the power to shape the structure and wiring of the brain. As the brain develops in early childhood, there is something that happens to brain cells called, “pruning,” whereby whatever networks are not being used will prune away to make room for other networks that are more frequently used. The benefit of taking action earlier is you have more influence on your child’s development because your child’s brain is still in the process of being formed. It is much easier to shape a growing brain than to rewire an already established network of neural connections later on in life.
Questions to ask your child’s doctor if you are beginning to have concerns
- I have noticed the following about my child (list your observations). How can I tell if these observations indicate a more serious issue with his/her development?
- Do you have any resources you can share with me about typical child development?
- How can I find out whether my child is developing like other children his/her age?
- Do you notice any concerns in my child’s development so far? If so, please share them with me.
- Can you conduct a brief developmental screening for my child? I am interested in learning more about how my child is developing.
- Is there anything I should be monitoring at home over the next few months? Is there anything we can do with my child at home to help him/her in his/her development?
- If I continue to have these concerns, who should I consult with to figure out the next steps?
What should you look for in an Early Intervention program?
Most experts agree that the core purpose of Early Intervention is to accomplish these goals:
- To support you in your role as a guardian
- To help you learn effective strategies for interacting with your child
- To support your child in his/her learning and development by teaching important developmental skills
- To minimize any additional challenges that may arise as a result of your child’s condition
- To promote positive interactions and relationships
Questions that you can ask Early Intervention service providers
- Do you have an Early Intervention program designed specifically for young children with (describe your child’s main areas of need)?
- What is your experience/what is your staff’s experience working with really young children?
- What approach do you use in your Intervention?
- How can I be involved in my child’s program?
- What do you see as the biggest priorities for my child’s learning and development at the moment?
- What goals or targets will you be working on with my child?
- How can I support my child at home? How can other adults support him/her at home?
- Is there anything I should avoid, or any potential factors that may prevent my child from making progress? What kinds of things would jeopardize his/her progress and learning at the moment?
- How will you measure progress?
- When can we meet to discuss my child’s development and progress in your program?
Images courtesy of the author and Markus Spiske on Unsplash.
About the Author
Dr. Plern Pratoommas
Plern has been working in the field of Early Childhood Intervention in Thailand and the United States for the past 15 years. She holds a Master of Arts degree in Special Education and a Ph.D. in Infant and Early Childhood Development, with an emphasis on Mental Health and Developmental Disorders. Plern is a certified Early Start Denver Model (ESDM) therapist and trainer, specializing in Early Intervention for children with Autism. Plern serves on the board of The Rainbow Room Foundation and is a lecturer at the National Institute for Child and Family Development at Mahidol University.
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